The Battle of Principles
NEWELL DWIGHT HILLIS
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The Battle of Principles
A Study of the Heroism and Eloquence of the Anti-Slavery Conflict
By NEWELL DWIGHT HILLIS, D. D.
NEW YORK CHICAGO TORONTO Fleming H. Revell Company LONDON AND EDINBURGH
Copyright, 1912, by FLEMING H. REVELL COMPANY
New York: 158 Fifth Avenue Chicago: 125 North Wabash Ave. Toronto: 25 Richmond Street, W. London: 21 Paternoster Square Edinburgh: 100 Princes Street
These are days of destiny for the people of the Republic. Democracy, like a beautiful civilization, is sweeping over all the earth. From Portugal comes the news of a monarchy that is taking on democratic forms. Turkey has announced the liberty of the printing press, Russia is planning a new system of popular education, China is in process of adopting a constitutional government, with a cabinet responsible to the people. Unless one reads the newspapers in many languages, the observer will miss daily some new victory for democracy. Great changes are on also for the Republic. Now that the Civil War is fifty years away, the new North and the new South represent a solid nation. Indeed, if every Northern soldier were to die to-day, not one interest or liberty of this Republic would be permitted to suffer by the sons of the Confederate soldiers, who would defend the nation unto blood as bravely as men born north of Mason and Dixon's line—indeed, who fought gallantly for it in the Cuban war. The North has entered upon a new industrial epoch, but the South also is in the midst of its greatest industrial movement, and in sight of its enlargement, by reason of the Panama Canal.
The Western Continent is not large, but it holds more than half the farm land of the planet, and it is already evident that the United States and Canada, with their free institutions, will indirectly and directly control the thousand millions of people that will soon live between the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, and Cape Horn. The one question of the hour is how to make all the coming millions patriots towards their country, scholars towards the intellect, obedient citizens towards the laws of nature and God. Our national peril is Mammonism, and the sordid pursuit of gold. Our fathers came hither in pursuit of God and liberty,—not gold and territory. Sixty of our present ninety millions of people have entered the earthly scene since the Civil War. Our young men and women, and the children of foreign born peoples need to open the pages of history, setting forth the great men and events of the Anti-Slavery epoch in this land.
The time has come for the teachers in the schoolroom and the preachers in their pulpits to assemble the youth of the nation, and drill them in the history of industrial democracy, and of political liberty. If our youth are to make the twentieth century glorious, they must realize the continuity of our institutions, and often return to the nineteenth century and the Anti-Slavery epoch. The phrase, "For God, home and native land," is often on the lips of our teachers. Love towards God gives religion; the love of home gives marriage; the love of country, patriotism. But patriotism is a fire that must be fed with the fuel of ideas. These chapters are written in the belief that the youth of to-day will find in the history of their fathers a storehouse filled with seed for a world sowing, an armoury filled with weapons for to-morrow's battle, a library rich with wisdom for the morrow's emergency, a cathedral, bright with memorials of yesterday's heroes, its soldiers and scholars, its statesmen, and above all, its martyred President.
NEWELL DWIGHT HILLIS.
Plymouth Church, Brooklyn, N. Y.
I. Rise of American Slavery: Growth of the Traffic 11
II. Webster and Calhoun: The Battle Line in Array 40
III. Garrison and Phillips: Anti-Slavery Agitation 68
IV. Charles Sumner: The Appeal to Educated Men 95
V. Horace Greeley: The Appeal to the Common People 117
VI. Harriet Beecher Stowe; John Brown: The Conflict Precipitated 136
VII. Lincoln and Douglas: Influence of the Great Debate 160
VIII. Reasons for Secession: Southern Leaders 188
IX. Henry Ward Beecher: The Appeal to England 212
X. Heroes of Battle: American Soldiers and Sailors 242
XI. The Life of the People at Home Who Supported the Soldiers at the Front 263
XII. Abraham Lincoln: The Martyred President 288
RISE OF AMERICAN SLAVERY: GROWTH OF THE TRAFFIC
The history of the nineteenth century holds some ten wars that disturbed the nations of the earth, but perhaps our Civil War alone can be fully justified at the bar of intellect and conscience. That war was fought, not in the interest of territory or of national honour,—it was fought by the white race for the enfranchisement of the black race, and to show that a democratic government, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, could permanently endure.
In retrospect, the Great Rebellion seems the mightiest battle and the most glorious victory in the annals of time. The battle-field was a thousand miles in length; the combatants numbered two million men; the struggle was protracted over four years; the hillsides of the whole South were made billowy with the country's dead; a million men were killed or wounded in the two thousand two hundred battles; thousands of gifted boys who might have permanently enriched the North and South alike, through literature, art or science, were cut off as unfulfilled prophecies in the beginning of their career, and what is more pathetic, another million women, desolate and widowed, remained to look with altered eyes upon an altered world, while alone they walked their Via Dolorosa. In the physical realm the black shadow of the sun's eclipse remains but for a few minutes, but through four awful years the nation dwelt in blackness and dreadful night, while fifty more years passed, and the shadow has not yet disappeared fully from the land.
Strictly speaking, the Civil War began with the debate between Daniel Webster and Calhoun in 1830. These intellectual giants set the battle lines in array in the halls of the Senate. The warfare that began with arguments in Congress was soon transferred to the lyceum and lecture hall, then to the pulpit and press, then to the assembly rooms of State legislatures, until finally it was submitted to the soldiers. At last Grant, Sherman and Thomas witnessed to the truth of Webster's argument, that the Union is one and inseparable, that it should endure now and forever, but the endorsement was written with the sword's point, and in letters of blood. The conflict raged, therefore, for thirty-five years, and some of the most desperate battles were fought not with guns and cannon, but with arguments, in the presence of assembled thousands, who listened to the intellectual attack and defense. In their famous debate, Lincoln and Douglas were over against one another like two fortresses, bristling with bayonets, and with cannon shotted to the muzzle.
The many millions of people in the United States, born or immigrated here since the Civil War, busied with many things during this rich, complex and prosperous era, have suffered a grievous loss, through the weakening of their patriotism. Multitudes have forgotten that with great price their fathers bought our industrial liberty for white and black alike. The study of no era, perhaps, is so rewarding to the youth of the country as the study of the Anti-Slavery epoch. It was an era of intellectual giants and moral heroes. Great men walked in regiments up and down the land. It was the age of our greatest statesmen of the North and South,—Webster and Calhoun; of our greatest soldiers,—Grant, Sherman, Thomas and Sheridan, and of Lee and Stonewall Jackson. It was the era of our greatest orators, Phillips and Beecher; of our greatest editors, led by Greeley and Raymond; of our greatest poets and scholars, Whittier and Lowell and Emerson; and of our greatest President, the Martyr of Emancipation. So wonderful are those scenes named Gettysburg, Appomattox, and the room where the Emancipation Act was signed, that even the most skeptical have felt that the issues of liberty and life for millions of slaves justified the entrance of a Divine Figure upon the human battle-field. This Unseen Leader and Captain of the host had dipped His sword in heaven, and carried a blade that was red with insufferable wrath against oppression, cruelty and wrong.
Now that fifty years have passed since the Civil War, the events of that conflict have taken on their true perspective, and movements once clouded have become clear. For great men and nations alike, the suggestive hours are the critical hours and epochs. That was a critical epoch for Athens, when Demosthenes plead the cause of the republic, and insisted that Athens must defend her liberties, her art, her laws, her social institutions, and in the spirit of democracy resist the tyrant Philip, who came with gifts in his hands. That was a critical hour for brave little Holland, dreaming her dreams of liberty,—when the burghers resisted the regiments of bloody Alva, and, clinging to the dykes with their finger-tips, fought their way back to the fields, expelled Philip of Spain, and, having no fortresses, lifted up their hands and exclaimed, "These are our bayonets and walls of defense!" Big with destiny also for this republic was that critical hour when Lincoln, in his first inaugural, pleaded with the South not to destroy the Union, nor to turn their cannon against the free institutions that seemed "the last, best hope of men." But the eyes of the men of the South were holden, and they were drunk with passion. They lighted the torch that kindled a conflagration making the Southern city a waste and the rich cotton-field a desolation.
At the very beginning, the founders and fathers of the nation were under the delusion that it was possible to unite in one land two antagonistic principles,—liberty and slavery. It has been said that the Republic, founded in New England, was nothing but an attempt to translate into terms of prose the dreams that haunted the soul of John Milton his long life through. The founders believed that every man must give an account of himself to God, and because his responsibility was so great, they felt that he must be absolutely free. Since no king, no priest, and no master could give an account for him, he must be self-governing in politics, self-controlling in industry, and free to go immediately into the presence of God with his penitence and his prayer. The fathers sought religious and political freedom,—not money or lands. But the new temple of liberty was to be for the white race alone, and these builders of the new commonwealth never thought of the black man, save as a servant in the house. For more than two centuries, therefore, the wheat and the tares grew together in the soil. When the tares began to choke out the wheat, the uprooting of the foul growth became inevitable. Perhaps the Civil War was a necessity,—for this reason, the disease of slavery had struck in upon the vitals of the nation and the only cure was the surgeon's knife. Therefore God raised up soldiers, and anointed them as surgeons, with "the ointment of war, black and sulphurous."
By a remarkable coincidence, the year that brought a slave ship to Jamestown, Virginia, brought the Mayflower and the Pilgrim fathers to Plymouth Rock. It is a singular fact that the star of hope and the orb of night rose at one and the same hour upon the horizon. At first the rich men of London counted the Virginia tobacco a luxury, but the weed soon became a necessity, and the captain of the African ship exchanged one slave for ten huge bales of tobacco. A second cargo of slaves brought even larger dividends to the owners of the slave ship. Soon the story of the financial returns of the traffic began to inflame the avarice of England, Spain and Portugal. The slave trade was exalted to the dignity of commerce in wheat and flour, coal and iron. Just as ships are now built to carry China's tea and silk, India's indigo and spices, so ships were built in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries for the kidnapping of African slaves, and the sale of these men to the sugar and cotton planters of the West Indies and of America. Even the stories of the gold and diamond fields of South Africa and Alaska have had less power to inflame men's minds than the stories of the black men in the forests of Africa, every one of whom was good for twenty guineas.
The London of 1700 experienced a boom in slave stocks as the London of 1900 in rubber stocks. Merchants and captains, after a few years' absence, returned to London to buy houses, carriages and gold plate, and by their political largesses to win the title of baronet, and even seats in the House of Lords. This illusion of gold finally fell upon the throne itself, and King William and Queen Mary lent the traffic royal patronage. At the very time when men in Boston, exultant over the success of their experiment in democracy, were writing home to London about this ideal republic of God that had been set up at Plymouth, and the orb of liberty began to flame with light and hope for New England, this other orb began to fling out its rays of sorrow, disease and death across Africa and the southern sands.
At length, in 1713, Queen Anne, in the Treaty of Utrecht, after a long and arduous series of diplomatic negotiations, secured for the English throne a monopoly of the slave traffic, and the writers of the time spoke of this treaty as an event that would make the queen's name to be eulogized as long as time should last. But two hundred years have reversed the judgment of the civilized world. History now recalls Queen Anne's monopoly of the slave traffic as it recalls the Black Death in England, the era of smallpox in Scotland,—for one such treaty is probably equal to two bubonic plagues, or three epidemics of cholera and yellow fever.
Finally, an informal agreement was entered upon between the English slave dealers, the Spaniards and Portuguese,—an agreement that was literally a "covenant with death and a compact with hell." The Portuguese became the explorers of the interior, the advance agents of the traffic, who reported what tribes had the tallest, strongest men, and the most comely women. The Spaniards maintained the slave stations on the coast, and took over from the Portuguese the gangs of slaves who were chained together and driven down to the coast; the English slave dealers owned the ships, bought the slaves at wholesale, transported the wretches across the sea, and retailed the poor creatures to the planters of the various colonies. Between 1620 and 1770 three million slaves were driven in gangs down to the African seacoast, and transported to the colonies. At this time some of the greatest houses in London, Lisbon and Madrid were founded, and some of the greatest family names were established during these one hundred and fifty years when the slave traffic was most prosperous. De Bau thinks that another 250,000 slaves perished during the voyages across the sea. For the eighteenth century was a century of cruelty as well as gold,—of crime and art,—of murderous hate and increasing commerce. If the prophet Daniel had been describing the Spain, Portugal and England of that time, he would have portrayed them as an image of mud and gold,—but chiefly mud. Little wonder that Thomas Jefferson, in his "Notes on Virginia," treating of the influence and possible consequences of slavery, wrote, "Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just." As England anchored war-ships in the harbour of Shanghai, and forced the opium traffic upon China, so she forced the slave traffic upon the American colonies by gun and cannon. The story of the English kings who crowded slavery upon the South makes up one of the blackest pages in the history of a country that has been like unto a sower who went forth to sow with one hand the good seed of liberty and justice, while with the other she sowed the tares of slavery and oppression.
From the very beginning, the climate and the general atmosphere of the North was unfriendly to slavery, just as the cotton, sugar and indigo, as well as the warm climate of the South encouraged slave labour. At first, neither Boston nor New York associated wrong with the custom of buying and using slave labour. And when, after a short time, opposition began to develop, this antagonism to slavery was based upon economic, rather than upon moral considerations.
Jonathan Edwards was our great theologian, but at the very time that Jonathan Edwards was writing his "Freedom of the Will" and preaching his revival sermons on "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," he was the owner of slaves. When that philosopher, whose writings had sent his name into all Europe, died, he bequeathed a favourite slave to his descendants. Whitefield was the great evangelist of that era, but Whitefield during his visit to the colonies purchased a Southern plantation, stocked it with seventy-five slaves, and when he died bequeathed it to a relative, whom he characterizes as "an elect lady," who, notwithstanding she was "elect," was quite willing to derive her livelihood from the sweat of another's brow.
And yet even in the Providence plantations, where more slaves were bought and sold than in any other of the Northern colonies, the traffic soon began to wane. The simple fact is that the rigour of the climate and the severity of the winters of New England made the life of the African brief. The slave was the child of a tropic clime, unaccustomed to clothing, and the January snows and the March winds soon developed consumption and chilled to death the child of the tropics. It was found impracticable to use the black man in either the forests or fields, and in a short time slaves were purchased only as domestic servants.
But about 1750 the conscience of New England awakened. Men in the pulpit took a strong position against the traffic. The Congregational churches of Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut declared against slavery and asked the legislatures to adopt the Jewish law, emancipating all slaves whatsoever at the end of the tenth year of servitude. A little later, slavery was made illegal in all the New England colonies, Pennsylvania at length remembered William Penn, who had freed all his slaves in his will, while the German churches of that State began to expel all members who were known to have bought or held a slave. When, therefore, the convention met in Philadelphia, in 1776, preparatory to the Declaration of Independence, the delegates were able to say that as a whole the Northern colonies had cleansed their borders of the abuse, and had decided to build their institutions and civilization upon free labour, as the sure foundation of individual and social prosperity.
But the antagonism to slavery in the Southern colonies was only less pronounced, and this, not because of economic reasons, but because of moral considerations. The Southern climate was friendly to cotton and tobacco, indigo and rice. These products made heavy demands upon labour, but white labour was unequal to the intense heat of the Southern summer and workmen were scarce. During the revolutions under King Charles I and Charles II and the wars at the beginning of the eighteenth century, England needed every man at home. Virginia offered high wages and large land rewards, but it was well-nigh impossible for her to secure immigrants and the labour she needed. In that hour the captain of a slave ship appeared in the House of Burgesses and offered to supply the need, but the people of Virginia instructed the delegates to the assembly to protest against the traffic. Finally, the colony imposed a duty upon each slave landing, and made the duty so high as to destroy the profits of the slave trade. King George was furious with anger, and sent out a royal proclamation forbidding all interference with the slave traffic under heavy penalty, and affirming that this trade was "highly beneficial to the colonies, as well as remunerative to the throne." Growing more antagonistic to slavery, the planters of Fairfax County called a convention at which Washington presided. Later, in Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin brought in the resolutions condemning slavery as "a wicked, cruel and unjustifiable trade." Soon the leading men of the Southern colonies sent a formal protest to England. Lord Mansfield supported them in a decision that in English countries, governed by English laws, freedom was the rule, and slavery illegal, unless the colony, through its assembly, expressly legalized the slave traffic.
When the first convention met in Philadelphia, Jefferson included among the articles of indictment against George the Third this paragraph: "He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery or to incur a miserable death in the transportation thither." This passage, however, was struck out of the Declaration in compliance with the wishes of the delegates from two colonies, who desired to continue slavery. But in 1784 Jefferson reopened the question by reporting an ordinance prohibiting slavery after the year 1800 in the territory that afterwards became Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky, as well as the territory north of the Ohio River. This anti-slavery clause was lost in the convention by only a single vote. "The voice of a single individual," wrote Jefferson, "would have prevented this abominable crime. But Heaven will not always be silent. The friends to the rights of human nature will in the end prevail."
Indeed, in the Southern States up to the very beginning of the Civil War there was a strong anti-slavery sentiment. When the first meeting was held in Baltimore to organize the Abolition Society, eighty-five abolition societies in various counties of Southern States sent delegates to the convention. It is a striking fact that the South can claim as much credit for the organization of the Abolition Society as William Lloyd Garrison and his friends in the North. For the real responsibility for slavery does not rest upon Virginia, the Carolinas or Georgia, but upon the mother-land, upon the avarice of the throne, the cupidity of English merchants and the power of English guns and cannon.
By the year 1790, therefore, slavery in the North had either died of inanition, or had been rendered illegal by the action of State legislatures, and the chapter was closed. There are the best of reasons also for believing that in the South slavery was waning, while the influence of planters who believed free labour more economical was waxing. Suddenly an unexpected event changed the whole situation. The commerce of the world rests upon food and clothing. The food of the world is in wheat and corn, the clothing in cotton and wool. But wool was so expensive that for the millions in Europe cotton garments were a necessity. England had the looms and the spindles, but she could not secure the cotton, and the Southern planters could not grow it. The cotton pod, as large as a hen's egg, bursts when ripe and the cotton gushes out in a white mass. Unfortunately, each pod holds eight or ten seeds, each as large as an orange seed. To clean a single pound of cotton required a long day's work by a slave. The production of cotton was slow and costly, the acreage therefore small, and the profits slender. The South was burdened with debt, the plantations were mortgaged, and in 1792 the outlook for the cotton planters was very dark, and all hearts were filled with foreboding and fear. One winter's night Mrs. General Greene, wife of the Revolutionary soldier, was entertaining at dinner a company of planters. In those days the planters had but one thought—how to rid their plantations of their mortgages. It happened that the conversation turned upon some possible mechanism for cleaning the cotton. Mrs. Greene turned to her guests, and, reminding Eli Whitney, a young New Englander who was in her home teaching her children, that he had invented two or three playthings for her children, suggested that he turn his attention to the problem.
Young Whitney had no tools, but he soon made them; had no wire, but he drew his own wire, and within a few months he perfected the cotton gin. When the cat climbs upon the crate filled with chickens, it thrusts its paw between the laths and pulls off the feathers, leaving the chicken behind the laths. Young Whitney substituted wires for laths, and a toothed wheel for the cat's paw, and soon pulled all the cotton out at the top, leaving the seeds to drop through a hole in the bottom of the gin. Within a year every great planter had a carpenter manufacturing gins for the fields. With Whitney's machine one man in a single day could clean more cotton than ten negroes could clean in an entire winter. Planters annexed wild land, a hundred acres at a time. For the first time the South was able to supply all the cotton that England's manufacturers desired. The cities in England awakened to redoubled industry. Southern cotton lands jumped from $5 to $50 an acre. Whitney found the South producing 10,000 bales in 1793. Sixty years later it produced 4,000,000 bales. Historians affirm that this single invention added $1,000,000,000 as a free gift to the planters of the South.
Although Eli Whitney took out patents, every planter infringed them. Whole States organized movements to fight Whitney before the courts. In 1808, when his patent expired, he was poorer than when he began. Feeling that the Southern planters had robbed him of the legitimate reward of his invention, Whitney came North and gave himself to the study of firearms. He invented what is now known as the Colt's revolver, the Remington rifle and the modern machine gun. Beginning with the feeling that he had been robbed of his just rights by Southern planters, Whitney ended by inventing the very weapons that deprived the planters of their slaves and preserved the Union.
But the new prosperity and the increased acreage for cotton in the South created an enormous market for slaves, and soon the sea swarmed with slave ships. Prices advanced five hundred per cent, until a slave that had brought $100 brought $500, and some even $1,000. What made slavery no scourge, but a great religious moral blessing? The answer is, the cotton gin and the cotton interest that gave a new desire to promote slavery, to spread it, and to use its labour. For Eli Whitney had made cotton to be king. Cotton encouraged slavery; slavery at last threatened the Union and so brought on the Civil War.
The value of the slave as an economic machine depended upon his physique, health and general endurance. The slave hunters were Portuguese, Spaniards and Arabs, who drove the negroes in gangs down to the coast, where they were loaded upon the slave ships. When the trade was brisk and prices high, the hold of the ship was crowded to suffocation, and intense suffering was inevitable. Landing at Savannah or Charleston, Mobile or New Orleans, the slaves were sold at wholesale, in the auction place. Later, the slave dealer drove them in gangs through the villages, where they were sold at retail. The cost of a slave varied with the price of cotton. Of the three million one hundred thousand slaves living in the South in 1850, one million eight hundred thousand were raising cotton. That was the great export, the basis of prosperity. So great was the demand in England for Southern cotton that profits were enormous. The Secretary of the Treasury in Buchanan's time published a list of forty Southern planters in Louisiana and Mississippi. One of them had five hundred negroes and sold the cotton from his plantation at a net profit of one hundred thousand dollars. Each negro, therefore, netted his master that year five hundred dollars. The working life of a slave was short, scarcely more than seven years, and for that reason the ablest negro was never worth more than from a thousand to twelve hundred dollars.
But if the cost of free labour was high, the cost of supporting the slave under the Southern climate was very low. The climate of the Gulf States is gentle, soft and propitious. Of forty planters who published their statements, the average cost of clothing and feeding a slave for one year was thirty dollars. One Louisiana planter, however, showed that one hundred slaves on his plantation had cost him in cash outlay seven hundred and fifty dollars for the entire year. This planter states that his slaves raised their own corn, converted it into meal and bread, raised their own sugar-cane, made their own molasses, built their own houses out of the forest hard by. The slaves also raised their own bacon, but unfortunately the price of meat was so high as to make its use only an occasional luxury. North Carolina passed a law commanding the planters to give their slaves meat at certain intervals, but the law remained a dead letter. Other states, by legal enactment, fixed the amount of meal that should be given to slaves.
When Fanny Kemble, the English actress, retired from the stage, it was to marry a Southern planter, and her autobiography and private letters throw a flood of light upon the life of the slaves upon a typical plantation in the cotton States. She says that the planter expected that about once in seven years he must buy a new set of hands; that the slaves did little in the winter, but they worked fifteen hours a day in the spring, and often eighteen hours a day in the summer until the cotton was picked. She adds that the negro children used to beg her for a taste of meat, just as English children plead for a little candy. She states that on her husband's estate slave breeding was most important and remunerative, and that the increase and the young slaves sold made it possible for the plantation to pay its interest. "Every negro child born was worth two hundred dollars the moment it drew breath."
It was this separation of families that touched the heart of Fanny Kemble Butler, and stirred the indignation of Harriet Martineau, who at the end of her year at the South wrote that she would rather walk through a penitentiary or a lunatic asylum than through the slave quarters that stood in the rear of the great house where she was entertained. It is this element that explains the statement of John Randolph of Virginia. Conversing one evening about the notable orations to which he had listened, the great lawyer said that the most eloquent words he had ever heard were "spoken on the auction block by a slave mother." It seemed that she pleaded with the auctioneer and the spectators not to separate her from her children and her husband, and she made these men, who were trafficking in human life, realize the meaning of Christ's words, "Woe unto him that doth offend one of My little ones; it were better for him that a millstone were placed about his neck and that he were cast into the depths of the sea."
In this era of industrial education for the coloured race it is interesting to note that five of the slave States imposed heavy penalties upon any one who should teach the slaves to read or write. Virginia, however, permitted the owner to teach his slave in the interest of better management of the plantation. North Carolina finally consented to arithmetic. After 1831 and the Nat Turner negro insurrection more stringent laws were passed to prevent the slaves learning how to read, lest they chance upon abolition documents. A Georgian planter said that "The very slightest amount of education impairs their value as slaves, for it instantly destroys their contentedness; and since you do not contemplate changing their condition, it is surely doing them an ill service to destroy their acquiescence in it." In spite of the law, however, domestic servants were frequently taught to read. Frederick Douglass found a teacher in his mistress, where he was held as a domestic slave, and Douglass in turn taught his fellow slaves on the plantation by stealth. The advertisements of slaves that mention the slave's ability to read and cipher, as a reason for special value, prove that the more intelligent slaves had at least the rudiments of knowledge. Olmstead, in his "Cotton Kingdom," says he visited a plantation in Mississippi, where one of the negroes had, with the full permission of his master, taught all his fellows how to read.
An examination of the influence of slavery upon the poorer whites shows that two-thirds of the white population suffered hardly less than did the coloured people. The slaveholding class formed an aristocracy, who dominated and ruled as lords. When the war broke out, there were about four hundred thousand slave-holders, and nine and a half million people. But of these four hundred thousand slave-holders, only about eight thousand owned more than fifty slaves each, and it was this mere handful who lived in splendid homes, surrounded with luxury, beauty, and refinement. Travellers who have thrown the veil of romance and enchantment about the Southern home, with a great house embowered in magnolia trees, its rooms stored with art treasures, its walls lined with marbles and bronzes, and its banqueting room at night crowded with beautiful women and handsome men—these travellers speak of what was as a matter of fact exceptional. We must remember that these men represented a small aristocracy; that their mode of life, so charmingly pictured by many accomplished writers, was the life of a select group, and that the great slave plantations numbered not more than eight thousand in that vast area.
From the hour of the organization of the Abolition Society, these Southern planters assumed an aggressive position. Their editors, politicians and lawyers began to publish briefs, in support of the peculiar institution. The usual argument began with ridicule of Thomas Jefferson's famous statement that all men are born equal. The second argument was an economic one, based on the value of the slaves. Three million slaves would average a value of five hundred dollars each, and this meant a billion five hundred millions of property, that had to be considered as so much property in ships, factories, engines, reapers, pastures, meadows, herds and flocks. All planters invoked the words of Moses, permitting the Hebrews to hold slaves, and therefore exhibiting slavery as a divine institution. Statesmen justified the Fugitive Slave Law by triumphantly quoting Paul's letter, sending Onesimus back to his rich master, Philemon. Jefferson Davis rested his argument upon the curse that God pronounced upon Canaan, and asserted that slavery was established by a decree of Almighty God and that through the portal of slavery alone the descendant of the graceless son of Noah entered the temple of civilization. Once a year the Southern minister preached from the text, "Cursed be Canaan, the son of Ham. A servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren."
A few scholars grounded themselves on the scientific argument. These men held that the black man was separated from the Saxon by a great chasm, that if freed he was not equal to self-government, that he was a mere child when placed in competition with the white man, and that the strong owed it to the weak, that it was the duty of every superior man to take charge of the inferior, and impose government from without.
The politician had a stronger argument in defense of slavery. He held that the nation that was strong, educated, prosperous, with an army and navy, had not only the right but the duty of imposing government upon a colony that was ignorant, poor, and degraded, and that this example of the nation governing a colony by force of arms proved that the white man, as master, should impose government from without upon the slave.
Not until years after the war was over did men fully realize that slavery was weight and free labour wings to the people. The North believed that the working man should be free, that he should be educated in the public schools, and that the only way to increase his wage was to increase his intelligence. Each new knowledge, therefore, brought a new economic hunger, and made the free labourer a good buyer in the market, thus supporting factories and shops. Contrariwise the slave was a poor buyer. The negro picking cotton out of the pod had few wants,—one garment about his loins, a pone of corn bread, a husk mattress,—no more. For that reason the slave starved the factory and shop. Invention in the South perished. Every attempt to found a factory was attended with failure. Of necessity, the North grew steadily richer straight through the war, while the South grew steadily poorer. The war closed with Northern factories and shops and trade at the high tide of prosperity. The free working man asked many forms of clothing for the body, books and magazines for the mind, pictures for the walls, sewing-machine, the reed organ, every conceivable comfort and convenience for his family, and these many forms of hunger nourished invention, made the towns centres of manufacturing life, and built a rich nation. The Northern working man put his head into his task, the slave, his heel. When the war was over, the South was like a crushed egg, impoverished by slavery. The peculiar institution had served well eight thousand slave planters, each of whom owned more than fifty slaves. But slavery had starved the remaining millions.
Now that the new era has come, no statesman, no scholar, no editor, has ever indicted slavery as the costliest possible form of production, with half the skill, eloquence and conviction of Southern writers. What Northern men believe, the Southerner knows. Unconsciously the Southern youth was handicapped in the commercial race. His Northern brother was an athlete, stripped to the skin, while he dragged a fetter, invisible. That he should have come so near to winning the race is a tribute to his courage, endurance, and a mental resource that can never be praised too highly. If the rest of the world could only fight for good causes, with half the ability, chivalry and bravery that the South fought for a bad economic system, the world would soon enter upon the millennium.
WEBSTER AND CALHOUN: THE BATTLE LINE IN ARRAY
The year was 1830; the scene, the Senate Chamber in Washington; the combatants, Daniel Webster and John C. Calhoun. Two hundred and ten years had now passed since the ship of liberty had come to New England, and the ship of slavery had landed in Virginia. These centuries had given ample time for the development of the real genius and influence of liberty and free labour in the civilization of the North, and of slave labour upon the institutions of the South. Little by little the merchants, manufacturers and professional classes of the North had come to feel that a free and educated working class produces wealth more cheaply and rapidly than slave labour, and that the working people of America must be educated and free, if they were to compete with the free working people of Great Britain and Europe. Contrariwise, the South believed that manual labour was a task for slaves, that cotton, rice and sugar were produced more rapidly by slave labour than by free labour. The Southern civilization was built on the plan of producing raw cotton, and exchanging it for manufactured goods. It did not escape the notice of Southern leaders, however, that under free labour the North had nearly double the population and wealth of the South. But Senator Hayne explained this by saying that the biggest nations had never been the greatest, and that the renowned peoples had been like Athens,—small states, elect and patrician.
But darkness and light, summer and winter, liberty and slavery cannot exist side by side, in peace and tranquility. Unite hydrogen and chlorine, and the chemist has an explosion that takes off the roof of the house. And because liberty and slavery were antagonistic, and mutually destructive, whenever the representatives of both came together there was inevitably an explosion either on the platform or through the press. It could not have been otherwise. In Palestine two opposing civilizations came into collision,—one the Hebrew and the other the Philistine,—and the Philistine went down. In Holland the Dutchmen, working towards democracy, collided with the Spaniards, working towards autocracy, and the Spaniard went down. In England, Hampden and Pym came into collision with Charles the First and Archbishop Laud. The two leaders of democracy wished to increase the privileges of the common people by diffusing property, liberty, office and honours, while Charles the First and Laud wished to lessen the powers of the people, and to increase the privileges of the throne; democracy won, and autocracy lost. And now in this republic, a civilization based upon the freedom and education of the working classes came into collision with the Southern civilization, based upon ignorant slave labour, and there were upheavals and political outbreaks everywhere. In vain Abraham tried to house Isaac, the son of the free woman, and Ishmael, the son of the slave woman, under one and the same roof. Slowly the men in the North and the manufacturers of England came to feel that slavery was interfering with the commerce and prosperity, not simply of the people of this republic, but of Europe also. Slavery was an economic obstruction, lying directly in the path of progress.
The two men who marked out the lines of struggle and precipitated the conflict were Daniel Webster and John C. Calhoun. Daniel Webster, the defender of the Constitution, affirmed that the Union was one and inseparable, now and forever. John C. Calhoun said, "The State is sovereign and supreme, and the Union secondary." In effect Webster said, "The central government is the sun, and the States are planets, moving round about the central orb." Calhoun answered, "There is no central sun in our political system, but only planets, each revolving in any orbit it elects for itself." Webster said, "In the cosmic and political system alike, it is the central sun that causes the States like planets to move in order and harmony, without collision, and with rich harvests." Calhoun answered that every planet should be its own sun, and, if it choose, be a runaway orb, and collide with whom it will.
Finally, the argument of Webster and Calhoun was submitted to armies. Grant and Sherman said, "Webster is right; the Union must be maintained." Lee and Jackson answered, "Calhoun is right; the Union must go, and the sovereign State remain." At Bull Run, Calhoun's doctrine seemed to be in the ascendancy; at Gettysburg, Webster's argument seemed to have the more cogency; at Appomattox Lee withdrew his support from Calhoun, and allowed Daniel Webster's plea that the Union must abide and be now and forever, one and inseparable.
The Northern statesman, Daniel Webster, was probably the greatest political genius our country has produced. He was born in New Hampshire, in 1782, and was seven years old when his father gave him a copy of the newly-adopted Constitution, which he soon committed to memory. His father belonged to the farmer class, who read by night and brooded upon his reading by day. In an era of privation for the colonists, by stern denial he put his son through Phillips Exeter Academy and Dartmouth College. While still a young man, Daniel Webster leaped into fame by a single argument before the Supreme Court of Massachusetts, and became the competitor of jurists like Rufus Choate. His orations on "Bunker Hill Monument," the "Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers," the "Death of Adams and Jefferson," are among the really sublime passages in the history of eloquence. In the Girard College case Webster established the point that Christianity is a part of the common law of the land. Criminal lawyers quote Webster's argument in the great Knapp murder trial, that the voice of conscience is the voice of God, as the world's best statement of the moral imperative, and the automatic judgment seat God has set up in the city of man's soul.
Even from the physical view-point he deserved his epithet, "the godlike Daniel." Not so tall as Calhoun or Clay, he was more solidly built than either of the Southern orators. His head was so large and beautiful, that Crawford, the sculptor, thought Webster his ideal model for a statue of Jupiter. His skin was a deep bronze and copper hue, but when excited his face became luminous, and translucent as a lamp of alabaster. His opponents say that Webster had the finest vocal instrument of his generation, and that he was a master of all possible effects through speech. His voice was mellow and sweet, with an extraordinary range, extending from the ringing clarion tenor note, to the bass of a deep-toned organ. The historian tells us "Webster had the faculty of magnifying a word into such prodigious volume that it was dropped from his lips as a great boulder might drop into the sea, and it jarred the Senate Chamber like a clap of thunder." The Kentucky lawyer, Thomas Marshall, said when Webster came to his peroration in his reply to Hayne, that he "listened as to one inspired." He finally thought he saw a halo around the orator's head, like the one seen in the old masters' depictions of saints.
Webster's opponent was John C. Calhoun, senator from South Carolina. Calhoun was the first Southern statesman to mark out the lines of battle and indicate the methods of attack and defense for the supporters of slavery. Graduating with high honours at Yale, in the class of 1802, Calhoun studied law for three years at Litchfield, Connecticut, and then decided to enter politics. In the lecture halls and class rooms, he stood at the very forefront, as orator and logician. One day, in Yale College, Calhoun delivered a speech on an apparently absurd proposition, which he defended with great acuteness. When he had finished, President Dwight said, "Calhoun, that is a brilliant piece of logic, and if I ever want any one to prove that shad grow upon apple trees, I shall appoint you."
Upon the lines of broad patriotism, with reference to the interests of the country as a whole, Calhoun supported the war with England in 1812. From city to city the young lawyer journeyed, travelling all the way from Charleston and Savannah to Boston and Portland, urging the right and the duty of the Republic to resist England's claim to the right of search of American vessels. Calhoun was widely read in history, he was full of intense patriotism, his arguments were clear, he had unity, order and movement in his thinking, he had the art of putting things, and was a perfect master of his audience. At thirty years of age Calhoun was as popular in Boston as he was later in Savannah and Charleston. In 1824, he was elected Vice-President,—the only man on the ticket to be chosen by popular vote. From that hour until his death he remained a member of the triumvirate that controlled the destinies of the Republic, sharing honours with Henry Clay and Daniel Webster.
In the South Calhoun was all but idolized. He was tall and slender of person, refined and elegant in manners, carrying with him great personal charm. He was a puritan in his morals, maintained a spotless reputation, and escaped all criticism with reference to private life that was visited upon his competitors. Many a Northern man who went to Congress hating the very name of Calhoun, the arch-secessionist, was compelled to confess that he had to steel his heart against the charm of Calhoun's speech and personality. The simplicity of his character, the clearness of his thinking, the sincerity and moral earnestness of his nature, all united to lend him the influence that he exerted over men like Oliver Dyer, Webster's friend, who said of Calhoun, "He was by all odds the most fascinating man in private intercourse that I have ever met."
When Webster and Clay came into collision, it was over a subject apparently far removed from the bondage of slaves. If slavery was the spark that fired the magazine for the great explosion in 1861, the tariff furnished the powder. The South produced raw material, and imported all her tools, comforts and conveniences, while the North had free labour, and her educated working classes were good purchasers, and lent generous support to manufacturers. Exporting its raw cotton to England, the South sent its leaders to Congress to ask for free trade with foreign countries, or in any event, a lower tariff. The Northern manufacturers sent their leaders to Congress to ask for protection against foreign woollens, cottons, and all English tools and French silks, and luxuries. Therefore the interests of the North antagonized the interests of the South. In the South the anti-slavery sentiment had disappeared because of Whitney's cotton gin. As Beecher wittily put it in his Manchester speech: "Slaves that before had been worth three to four hundred dollars began to be worth six hundred. That knocked away one-third of adherence to the moral law. Then they became worth seven hundred dollars, and half the law went; then eight or nine hundred dollars, and there was no such thing as moral law; then one thousand or twelve hundred dollars, and slavery became one of the beatitudes."
The Southern leaders, therefore, wanted free trade with England; the North urged protection, in the interest of the whole country, rather than a group of States. The South believed that Northern politics was selfish; the North believed that the Southern leaders were building up English manufacturers, and weakening their own country! The people became one great debating club, and the dispute waxed more bitter day by day. Every new event seemed to widen the breach. The war of the Revolution made for unity between North and South, just as the hammer welds together two pieces of red hot iron. The soldiers of the Revolution had marched under the same flag, supported the same Declaration of Independence, and fought for the same Constitution. Slavery in the North had died through inanition, and during the eighteenth century in the South also slavery seemed in process of extinction. But now, in 1830, slavery had become a great source of immeasurable wealth to the South, just as manufacturing had built up the prosperity of the North.
The tariff discussion came to a climax in 1828, through the passing of a customs act, known as the Tariff of Abominations. Sparks falling on ice carry no peril, but sparks falling on the dry prairie cause conflagrations. The news of the passing of the protective tariff created intense excitement in South Carolina. Public meetings were called in all the towns in the land, and protests were made against the execution of the new law. Legislators in the State capital, orators on the platform, editors through their columns, urged nullification. There were two reasons for this growing hostility to protection on the part of the citizens of Calhoun's State; first the belief that as England was the largest purchaser of cotton, it was to South Carolina's best interest to have English goods brought in free; second the conviction that the tariff was a strictly sectional movement in the interest of the manufacturing North, as opposed to the South with her raw cotton and slave labour.
As a candidate for the vice-presidency in 1828 on the same ticket as General Jackson, Calhoun took no definite step until after the election, when he published a paper showing the evil which the protective tariff was doing the Southern states, and asserting the right to interpose a veto. In January, 1830, having broken with Jackson and abandoned all hope of later obtaining the presidency by his aid, Calhoun decided to test the theory of nullification upon the national theatre. Accordingly, under his direction, Senator Hayne inserted in his speech on the Foote Resolution on the public lands the defense of what was to be known later as the South Carolina Doctrine,—that, if a State considered a law of Congress unconstitutional (as South Carolina asserted the recent tariff act to be) the State had the right to nullify the law, and, if obedience was sought to be enforced, the right to secede from the Union.
His position has been stated by no one so clearly as by himself, for he spent the next three years perfecting and elaborating his argument. As the basis of his structure he employed a distinction between "a nation" and "a union." England was a nation—the United States was a union. Russia, Austria and Turkey were nations—this republic a union of sovereign states. Prussia was presided over by a king and was a nation—the United States was a republic and the citizens ruled themselves. Calhoun distinguished also between sovereignty and government; sovereignty is a birthright, a natural and inalienable right vouchsafed by God; government is an artificial right established by law. Sovereignty is an inexpungable and inherent privilege; government is a secondary and artificial privilege. When any sovereign State is injured, it has not only the right but the duty to withdraw from the compact that has been broken. The popular notion is that this idea of Secession was originated by Calhoun and was a South Carolina heresy; as a matter of fact, it was first presented in Congress by Josiah Quincy, and should be called "A Massachusetts heresy."
In 1811, as one of the results of the purchase of Louisiana by Jefferson, a bill had been offered providing for the reception of the State of Orleans into the Union. The people of New Orleans spoke the French language, lived under the code of Napoleon, were monarchial in their sympathy, and Quincy opposed the bill, just as many men to-day would oppose the reception into the Union of the Philippines, the Hawaiians or the Porto Ricans. Mr. Quincy declared that if Orleans were admitted, the several States would be freed from the federal bonds and that "as it will be the right of all States, so it will be the duty of some, to prepare definitely for separation, amicably if they can, violently if they must." When the speaker ruled out of order these remarks, Quincy appealed, and the House of Representatives sustained his appeal by a vote of fifty-six to fifty-three. Congress, under the lead of Massachusetts, went on record that "it was permissible to discuss a dissolution of the Union, amicably if we can—forcibly if we must."
Two years later, Henry Clay taunted the Massachusetts leaders with this threat to dismember the Union. In 1844, Charles Francis Adams, in a speech opposing the annexation of Texas, affirmed the right of the Northern States to dissolve the Union. Even Charles Sumner and Horace Greeley held the same views in 1861. The editor was anxious to "let the erring sisters go," believing that the withdrawal was parliamentary; while Charles Sumner said: "If they will only go, we will build a bridge of gold for them to go over on."
But it was Calhoun who carried the doctrine of Nullification to its full development, and who worked out the theory of sovereignty. In the debate with Webster, on the Force Bill, he stated his argument as follows: "The people of Carolina believe that the Union is a union of States and not of individuals; that it was formed by the States, and that the citizens of the several States were bound to it through the acts of their several States; that each State ratified the Constitution for itself, and that it was only by such ratification of the States that any obligation was imposed upon its citizens.... On this principle the people of the State [South Carolina] have declared by the ordinance that the Acts of Congress which imposed duties under the authority to lay imposts, were acts not for revenue, as intended by the Constitution, but for protection, and therefore null and void." "The terms union, federal, united, all imply a combination of sovereignties, a confederation of States. The sovereignty is in the several States, and our system is a union of twenty-four sovereign powers, under a constitutional compact, and not of a divided sovereignty between the States severally and the United States."
His attitude towards slavery is illustrated by the remarks he delivered in the Senate. "This agitation has produced one happy effect at least; it has compelled us of the South to look into the nature and character of this great institution of slavery, and correct many false impressions that even we had entertained in relation to it. Many in the South once believed that it was a moral and political evil. That folly and delusion are gone. We see it now in its true light, and regard it as a most safe and stable basis for free institutions in the world. It is impossible with us that the conflict can take place between labour and capital, which makes it so difficult to establish and maintain free institutions in all wealthy and highly civilized nations, where such institutions as ours do not exist."
Calhoun's attempt to have his doctrine set forth on the floor of the Senate Chamber met a crushing blow. When the hour came, he chose, to present his view, Hayne of South Carolina, who defended the doctrine of nullification with great brilliancy and energy. Hayne took the ground that nullification was the old view always held by Virginia, that it was the doctrine of Thomas Jefferson, and had been urged by Josiah Quincy of Massachusetts itself. He was a most gifted orator. After a century of preparation, at length slavery had chosen its strategic position and drawn the battle line. From that moment it was certain that slavery must go, or that the Union must go. A feeling of apprehension spread over the land. Fear fell upon the hearts of the people. The one question of the hour was whether Webster could answer the Southern orator and sweep away the fog with which Hayne had enveloped the discussion, and make the old Constitution stand out as firm as a mountain, with principles as bright as the stars.
By universal consent Webster's reply is our finest example of forensic eloquence. The essence of the argument was the right of the majority to control the minority. That one State could nullify and secede whenever the majority outvoted it, practically destroyed the jury system which is embedded in Saxon history, destroyed the right of the majority of the aldermen to control the great city, destroyed the right of the majority of the supreme justices to make their decision. Webster's argument crushed the doctrine of secession, and made the Republic a nation. Thus Calhoun and Webster marked out the line of battle, for when the men in gray and the men in blue met at Gettysburg and Appomattox it was to determine whether Calhoun or Webster was right. Grant's final victory simply stamped with a seal of blood the great charter that Webster's genius had formulated.
In retrospect the wonderful thing about Webster's reply is that his notes were confined to a sheet of letter paper. Afterwards Webster said that it had been carefully prepared, for while there is such a thing as extemporaneous delivery, there is "no extemporaneous acquisition." Not until he entered the Senate Chamber and saw the crowds did he feel the slightest trepidation. "A strange sensation came. My brain was free. All that I had ever read or thought or acted, in literature, in history, in law, in politics, seemed to unroll before me in glowing panorama, and then it was easy, if I wanted a thunderbolt, to reach out and take it, as it went smoking by." When Lyman Beecher had read Webster's reply to Hayne, he turned to a friend and exclaimed, "It makes me think of a red-hot cannon-ball going through a bucket of empty egg-shells."
From that hour patriotism rose like a flood. For two generations the reply has been to Americans what Demosthenes on the Crown was to the Athenians. Webster placed the nation above the union, made the Nation, in its constitutionally specified sphere of action, sovereign and primary, the States secondary and subordinate. He thus made possible a world-wide victory for free institutions, by which, to-day, democracy and self-government are making thrones totter and tyrants tremble, and giving us the assurance that no government is so stable as a government conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are free and equal. Webster made logical use of "government of the people, by the people, and for the people." The soldiers of Gettysburg exhibited their willingness to defend such a government, to live for free institutions, and if necessary to die for them.
Now that long time has passed, Southerners and Northerners alike concede that Calhoun made three mistakes. He fought against progress and civilization that has destroyed slavery on moral grounds. He also failed to see that slavery was the worst possible system of production, for if the South produced under slavery 4,000,000 bales of cotton in 1861, now that the coloured man is free she produces 15,000,000 bales of cotton per year. His theory of the right of the minority as a sovereign right of secession has broken down at the bar of civilization. If South Carolina or any State has the right to withdraw, whenever the majority of other States outvote it, it means that the minority always has a right to disobey the majority, which means not simply the withdrawal of the one State from the many States, but later, the withdrawal of a few counties from a majority of the counties in that State, giving an endless series of confusions. If any single doctrine is established among civilized nations to-day it is this one, under democratic institutions—the right of the majority to rule.
Three years later Webster once more marked out the basis of the North's position for all time in a debate with Calhoun himself. Without the magnificent flights of eloquence which distinguished the Reply to Hayne, this speech of February 16, 1833, was filled with close and powerful reasoning. Once and for all he maintained:
"1. That the Constitution of the United States is not a league, confederacy, or compact between the people of the several States, in their sovereign capacities, but a government proper, founded on the adoption of the people, and creating direct relations between itself and individuals.
"2. That no State authority has power to dissolve these relations; that nothing can dissolve them but revolution. And that consequently there can be no such thing as secession without revolution."
The importance of that argument in the history of our country cannot be overestimated. As James Ford Rhodes has put it: "The justification alleged by the South for her secession in 1861 was based on the principles enunciated by Calhoun; the cause was slavery. Had there been no slavery, the Calhoun theory of the Constitution would never have been propounded, or had it been, it would have been crushed beyond resurrection by Webster's speeches of 1830 and 1833. The South could not in 1861 justify her right to revolution, for there was no oppression nor invalidation of rights. She could, however, proclaim to the civilized world what was true, that she went to war to extend slavery. Her defense therefore is that she made the contest for her constitutional rights, and this attempted vindication is founded on the Calhoun theory. On the other hand, the ideas of Webster waxed strong with the years; and the Northern people, thoroughly imbued with these sentiments, and holding them as sacred truths, could not do otherwise than resist the dismemberment of the Union."
The great crisis that broke Mr. Webster's health and perhaps his heart came through a misunderstanding. In 1850 the discussion over the Wilmot proviso was stirring the Senate; Henry Clay had brought in his series of compromise resolutions, based on the sober belief that the Union was in imminent danger, and that once again the skillful hand that had penned the Missouri Compromise might turn the country back into the path of peace and prosperity. Calhoun, the second of the great Triumvirate, was already within a month of death. Too weak to read his speech, he was wheeled into the Senate Chamber, to sit with closed eyes while his last haughty, arrogant defense of the South's rights was read by Senator Mason. But the greatest of them all was yet to speak. Webster had the foresight of Civil War, with rivers of blood, and a man on horseback. Influenced by what we now see was the broadest patriotism, he delivered his "Seventh of March Speech,"—the opening words of which disclose a motive and a purpose too often overlooked by his critics. "I speak to-day for the preservation of the Union. 'Hear me for my cause.'" Briefly, his position was this:—that the Union was primary, dealing with the liberties of fifty and later one hundred millions of people,—white men as well as black,—and that the slavery question was secondary, involving an artificial, less important and less permanent institution. He discussed slavery from the view-point of history, with arguments of the philosopher rather than those of the orator. He defended the compromise measures, with their clause in favour of strict enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law, on the ground that the Government was solemnly pledged by law and contract, and, indeed, "had been pledged to it again and again." He closed with that famous paragraph demonstrating the impossibility of peaceable secession. "Sir, he who sees these States now revolving in harmony around a common centre, and expects them to quit their places, and fly off without convulsion, may look the next hour to see the heavenly bodies rush from their spheres, and jostle against each other in the realms of space, without causing the wreck of the universe."
But he had defended the Fugitive Slave Law!—Therefore Abolitionists burned Webster in effigy. Wendell Phillips called him a second Judas Iscariot. Whittier wrote "Ichabod" across his forehead. Horace Mann described him as a "fallen star—Lucifer descending from heaven!" Every arrow was barbed and poisoned. Webster suffered like a great eagle with a dart through its heart, beating its bloody wings upward through the pathless air.
But now that long time has passed, thoughtful men realize that Webster had studied the fundamental question more deeply, knew the facts better, and saw clearer than his detractors. It is true that he erred when he criticized the Abolitionists on the ground that in the last twenty years they had "produced nothing good or valuable,"—that his words were chosen in a way that irritated the North unduly,—and, more important still, that in his remarks on the Fugitive Slave Law he swerved from the broad statesmanship which distinguished the rest of the speech. But twelve years later Abraham Lincoln read Daniel Webster's Seventh of March Speech, and said Webster was right and Boston was wrong. Lincoln put Webster's position into his letter to Greeley: "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; if I could save the Union by freeing all the slaves, I would do it, and if I could save the Union by freeing some, and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about slavery I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union." And to-day, after sixty years, our foremost writers are agreeing that "from the historical view-point Webster's position was one of the highest statesmanship." But the recognition of Webster unfortunately came too late.
As time passed Webster felt more and more keenly the injustice done him. Bitterness poisoned his days, and sorrow shortened his life. When the autumn came, he made ready for the end, knowing he would not survive another winter. One October morning Webster said to his physician, "I shall die to-night." The physician, an old friend, answered, "You are right, sir." When the twilight fell, and all had gathered about his bedside, Mr. Webster, in a tone that could be heard throughout the house, slowly uttered these words, "My general wish on earth has been to do my Master's will. That there is a God, all must acknowledge. I see Him in all these wondrous works, Himself how wondrous! What would be the condition of any of us if we had not the hope of immortality? What ground is there to rest upon but the Gospel? There were scattered hopes of the immortality of the soul, especially among the Jews. The Jews believed in a spiritual origin of creation; the Romans never reached it; the Greeks never reached it. It is a tradition that communication was made to the Jews by God Himself through Moses. There were intimations crepuscular, but—but—but—thank God! the Gospel of Jesus Christ brought immortality to light, rescued it, brought it to light."
Then, while all knelt in his death chamber and wept, Webster, in a strong, firm voice, repeated the whole of the Lord's Prayer, closing with these words: "Peace on earth and good will to men. That is the happiness, the essence—good will to men." And so the defender of the Constitution, the greatest reasoner on political matters of the Republic, fell upon death.
* * * * *
Reflecting upon Webster's unconscious influence as set forth in the words, "I still live," one of his eulogists says that when Rufus Choate took ship for that port where he died, a friend exclaimed: "You will be here a year hence." "Sir," said the lawyer, "I shall be here a hundred years hence, and a thousand years hence." With his biographer let us also believe that Daniel Webster is still here; that he watches with intense interest the spread of democracy; that he now perceives our free institutions extending their influence around the globe, beneficently victorious in many a foreign state; that he rejoices as he beholds "the gorgeous ensign of the Republic, now known and honoured throughout the world, bearing that sentiment dear to every true American heart, liberty and union, now and forever, one and inseparable."
GARRISON AND PHILLIPS: ANTI-SLAVERY AGITATION
In retrospect, historians make a large place for the eloquence of the anti-slavery epoch, as a force explaining the abolition movement. Every great movement must have its advocate and voice. Garrison was the pen for abolition, Emerson its philosopher, Greeley its editor, and in Wendell Phillips abolition had its advocate. Political kings are oftentimes artificial kings. The orator is God's natural king, divinely enthroned. Back of all eloquence is a great soul, a great cause and a great peril. Our history holds three supreme moments in the story of eloquence—the hour of Patrick Henry's speech at Williamsburg, Wendell Phillips' at Faneuil Hall and Lincoln's at Gettysburg. The great hour and the great crisis, the great cause and the great man, all met and melted together at a psychologic moment. In retrospect Phillips seems like a special gift of God to the anti-slavery period. Webster had more weight and majesty, Everett a higher polish, Douglas more pathos, Beecher was more of an embodied thunder-storm, but John Bright was probably right when he pronounced Wendell Phillips one of the first orators of his century, or of any century.
The man back of Wendell Phillips and the abolition movement was William Lloyd Garrison. This reformer began his career in 1825, as a practical printer and occasional writer of articles for the daily press. Among Garrison's friends were two Quakers, one a young farmer, John Greenleaf Whittier; the other was Benjamin Lundy, who for several years had spent his time and fortune protesting against the slave traffic. Lundy had visited Hayti, to examine the conditions of negro life there,—had returned to Baltimore, where he had been brutally beaten by a slave dealer, and had finally come to Boston to test out the anti-slavery sentiment in New England. He held a meeting in a Baptist church, only to have it broken up by the pastor, who refused to allow Lundy to continue his remarks, on the ground that his position could only be offensive to the South, and therefore dangerous. But Lundy succeeded in having a committee appointed to consider the problem, and young Garrison was one of its members. A few months later, Garrison was made the editor of a journal in Bedford, where he began to advance more and more radical theories, until a rival editor was irritated to the point of charging him with "the pert loquacity of a blue jay." But Garrison's fidelity to his own convictions, and his courage in airing them in public, had won the respect of the Quaker enthusiast, Lundy, and the old man walked all the way from Baltimore to Bedford to ask Garrison to join him in his work of agitation. A year later the two men, one old and discouraged, the other young and hopeful, both being practically penniless,—started work in Baltimore. Troubles came thick and fast. The slave dealer who had beaten Lundy now attacked young Garrison. Carelessly worded criticisms of a Northern slave dealer from Garrison's own town of Newburyport led to a suit for libel, and a fine of fifty dollars; neither man could raise the money to pay the fine, and Garrison went to jail for forty-nine days. But the youth was full of courage and faith, and in 1831 we find him once more in Boston, starting a new paper, that was, if possible, more radical than ever.
In this second venture he was alone, his office was a garret, his only helper a negro boy whom he had freed. His paper was called the Liberator, and the first edition appeared in January, 1831. Garrison registered his sublime vow in his opening editorial: "I will be as harsh as truth and as uncompromising as justice.... I am in earnest,—I will not equivocate,—I will not excuse,—I will not retract a single inch,—and I will be heard." His battle cry was "Immediate, unconditional emancipation on the soil."
No movement that wrought so great a national convulsion ever had a more feeble origin. The Revolutionary fathers had three million colonists as supporters. The leaders of the Home Rule movement had four millions of Irishmen to back them. Cobden and Bright were supported and cheered on by the manufacturers of Central England. But young Garrison stood alone, with empty hands, a slave boy to support, a hand-press printing a sheet twelve inches square, never knowing where the money for the next edition was to come from. His motto was "Our country is the world, and our countrymen all men, black or white." The genius of his message was unmistakable: "Is slavery wrong anywhere? Then it is wrong everywhere. Was it wrong once in Palestine? Then it is wrong in all lands. Is a wrongdoer bound to do right at any time? Then he is bound to do right instantly." He distributed his sheets among the merchants of Boston. Beacon Street shook with laughter, for a new Don Quixote had arisen. But from the first the South was alarmed, for that little sheet from the printing-press fell upon the South like the stroke and tread of armed men.
The Liberator soon brought friends to this unknown youth. But in August of this same year, 1831, an event occurred which lifted Garrison,—almost without his being aware of it,—into truly national prominence. This was the Nat Turner rebellion in Virginia,—a negro uprising under the leadership of a genuine African slave who knew the Bible by heart, who claimed to have communication with the Holy Spirit, and who finally employed an eclipse of the sun as a sign to his followers that they were to arise and slay their masters. The massacre which resulted lasted forty-eight hours, and sixty-one white people on the neighbouring plantations lost their lives. Retribution followed swiftly, and where the slightest suspicion of guilt was to be found, negroes were shot at sight or burned against the nearest tree. Southampton County saw a veritable reign of terror. A storm of indignation swept over the South; thousands of slave owners living on their great estates, miles from the nearest military station, feared themselves victims of a servile insurrection. The cause of the uprising was at once sought for, and a hundred writers laid the blame at the door of the Boston Liberator. Garrison was indicted for felony in North Carolina. The legislature of Georgia offered a reward for $5,000 to any one who would kidnap him and deliver his body within the limits of the state. With one voice the entire South cried out that the Liberator must be suppressed.
Later it became clear that Garrison's part in the Nat Turner rebellion was nil. The Liberator had not a single subscriber in the South; Nat Turner had never seen a copy of the paper,—and Garrison had been specific in his statements that he did not believe in active resistance to authority, or in the use of force of any kind. But the storm had broken, and Garrison had to fight his way through it.
Even in Boston Garrison had to face the mob, and meet the scorn of the ruling classes of the city. His movement had no popular support, in the true sense of the word, as it had twenty years later, when Wendell Phillips led the forces of abolition. Cotton was king, and the fear of losing the Southern trade sent the mercantile classes into a panic of fear. Garrison's enemies were by no means confined to the South. He was like David with his sling; and slavery, with all its vassals, North as well as South, was Goliath armed with steel. But for Garrison there were only two words, Right and Wrong, and he would not compromise concerning either.
Within two years he succeeded in organizing in Philadelphia the American Anti-Slavery Society; by 1835 he convinced William Ellery Channing that the time had fully come for an active crusade, and this old minister, with a literary reputation in Europe almost as great as that of Washington Irving, published an abolition book called "Slavery," which is said to have been read by every prominent man in public life. In 1840 the society numbered not less than 200,000, and the hardest of Garrison's work was done.
But he was to have a potent ally in Wendell Phillips, the explanation of whose career is in his birth gifts. One of his ancestors was a Cambridge graduate, who rebelled against the tyranny of Charles, and exchanged wealth and position for a New England wilderness. It was one of his forefathers who was the first mayor of Boston. Another founded Phillips Exeter Academy. Wendell Phillips himself began his career at the moment when Madison's State Papers had won him the presidency, when John Adams was the glory of the city, when Channing was the light of the pulpit, and Lyman Beecher was the idol of orthodox Boston. He was in his early teens when he waited four hours on a Boston wharf to see Lafayette's boat come in. He was thirteen when he heard Daniel Webster's oration on Adams and Jefferson. He was sixteen when he entered Harvard College, and formed his lifelong friendship with his roommate, John Lothrop Motley. He studied law with Charles Sumner, in the office of Judge Story, a legal star of the first magnitude. He was counted one of the handsomest youths in Boston. There was nothing too bright or too hard for Wendell Phillips to aspire to, or hope for. At the critical moment, when he had to decide upon his future career, ambition sang to him, as to every noble youth. George William Curtis represents Phillips as sometimes forecasting the future, as he saw himself "succeeding Ames, and Otis and Webster, rising from the bar to the Legislature, from the Legislature to the Senate, from the Senate—who knows whither? He was already the idol of society, the applauded orator, the brilliant champion of the eloquent refinement and the conservatism of Massachusetts. The delight of social ease, the refined enjoyment of taste and letters and art, opulence, leisure, professional distinction, gratified ambition, all offered bribes to the young student." The measure of his manhood is in the way he thrust aside all honours and emoluments that stood in the path of duty. Only he who knows what he renounces gains the true blessing of renunciation.
The young orator's attitude towards slavery was determined by the mobbing of Garrison. One October afternoon in 1835 Wendell Phillips sat reading by an open window in his office on Court Street. Suddenly his attention was diverted from the page by voices, angry and profane, rising from the street without. Looking down he saw a multitude moving up the street, and soon found that the multitude had become a mob. Five thousand men were collected in front of the anti-slavery office, and were trying to crowd their way up the stairs in search of Garrison. In another room thirty women were assembled to organize a woman's abolition society. When the women found that the mob wanted to put them out also, they sent a message to Mayor Lyman asking protection. When the mayor arrived with the police, instead of dispelling the mob and protecting liberty of speech, the mayor dispelled the women and protected the mob. Discovering that they had the sympathy of the mayor and would be protected by the police, the lawless element rushed upon the office of the Liberator, smashed in the doors and windows, and dragged Garrison forth. Bareheaded, with a rope about his waist, his coat torn off, but with erect head, set lips, flashing eyes, Garrison was dragged down the street to the City Hall. On every side rose the shout "Kill him! Lynch him! —— the abolitionist!" Asking who the man was, Phillips was told that this was Garrison, the editor of the Liberator. Meeting the commander of the Boston regiment, of which he was a member, he exclaimed, "Why does not the mayor call out the troops? This is outrageous!" "Why," answered the officer, "don't you see that our militia are also the mob?" It was all too true. The mob was made up of men of property and standing. In that hour Wendell Phillips had his call. In the person of that man dragged down the street with a rope around his waist, the most gifted speaker in Boston had found his client; in the crusade against slavery he found his cause, and soon his clarion voice was heard sounding the onset.