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HOME > Biographical > Harriet Beecher Stowe > CHAPTER IX. ST. CLARE.
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CHAPTER IX. ST. CLARE.
It is with pleasure that we turn from the dark picture just presented, to the character of the generous and noble-hearted St. Clare, wherein the fairest picture of our Southern brother is presented.

It has been the writer’s object to separate carefully, as far as possible, the system from the men. It is her sincere belief that, while the irresponsible power of slavery is such that no human being ought ever to possess it, probably that power was never exercised more leniently than in many cases in the Southern States. She has been astonished to see how, under all the disadvantages which attend the early possession of arbitrary power, all the temptations which every reflecting mind must see will arise from the possession of this power in various forms, there are often developed such fine and interesting traits of character. To say that these cases are common, alas! is not in our power. Men know human nature too well to believe us, if we should. But the more dreadful the evil to be assailed, the more careful should we be to be just in our apprehensions, and to balance the horror which certain abuses must necessarily excite, by a consideration of those excellent and redeeming traits which are often found in individuals connected with the system.

The twin brothers, Alfred and Augustine St. Clare, represent two classes of men which are to be found in all countries. They are the radically aristocratic and democratic men. The aristocrat by position is not always the aristocrat by nature, and vice versa; but the aristocrat by nature, whether he be in a higher or lower position in society, is he who, though he may be just, generous and humane, to those whom he considers his equals, is entirely insensible to the wants, and sufferings, and common humanity, of those whom he considers the lower orders. The sufferings of a countess would make him weep; the sufferings of a seamstress are quite another matter.

On the other hand, the democrat is often found in the highest position of life. To this man, superiority to his brother is a thing which he can never boldly and nakedly assert 36without a secret pain. In the lowest and humblest walk of life, he acknowledges the sacredness of a common humanity; and however degraded by the opinions and institutions of society any particular class may be, there is an instinctive feeling in his soul which teaches him that they are men of like passions with himself. Such men have a penetration which at once sees through all the false shows of outward custom which make one man so dissimilar to another, to those great generic capabilities, sorrows, wants and weaknesses, wherein all men and women are alike; and there is no such thing as making them realize that one order of human beings have any prescriptive right over another order, or that the tears and sufferings of one are not just as good as those of another order.

That such men are to be found at the South in the relation of slave-masters, that when so found they cannot and will not be deluded by any of the shams and sophistry wherewith slavery has been defended, that they look upon it as a relic of a barbarous age, and utterly scorn and contemn all its apologists, we can abundantly show. Many of the most illustrious Southern men of the Revolution were of this class, and many men of distinguished position of later day have entertained the same sentiments.

Witness the following letter of Patrick Henry, the sentiments of which are so much an echo of those of St. Clare that the reader might suppose one to be a copy of the other:
LETTER OF PATRICK HENRY.
Hanover, January 18th, 1773.

Dear Sir: I take this opportunity to acknowledge the receipt of Anthony Benezet’s book against the slave-trade; I thank you for it. Is it not a little surprising that the professors of Christianity, whose chief excellence consists in softening the human heart, in cherishing and improving its finer feelings, should encourage a practice so totally repugnant to the first impressions of right and wrong? What adds to the wonder is, that this abominable practice has been introduced in the most enlightened ages. Times that seem to have pretensions to boast of high improvements in the arts and sciences, and refined morality, have brought into general use, and guarded by many laws, a species of violence and tyranny which our more rude and barbarous, but more honest ancestors detested. Is it not amazing that at a time when the rights of humanity are defined and understood with precision, in a country above all others fond of liberty,—that in such an age and in such a country we find men professing a religion the most mild, humane, gentle and generous, adopting such a principle, as repugnant to humanity as it is inconsistent with the Bible, and destructive to liberty? Every thinking, honest man rejects it in speculation. How free in practice from conscientious motives!

Would any one believe that I am master of slaves of my own purchase? I am drawn along by the general inconvenience of living here without them. I will not, I cannot, justify it. However culpable my conduct, I will so far pay my devoir to virtue as to own the excellence and rectitude of her precepts, and lament my want of conformity to them.

I believe a time will come when an opportunity will be offered to abolish this lamentable evil. Everything we can do is to improve it, if it happens in our day; if not, let us transmit to our descendants, together with our slaves, a pity for their unhappy lot, and an abhorrence for slavery. If we cannot reduce this wished-for reformation to practice, let us treat the unhappy victims with lenity. It is the furthest advance we can make towards justice. It is a debt we owe to the purity of our religion, to show that it is at variance with that law which warrants slavery.

I know not when to stop. I could say many things on the subject, a serious view of which gives a gloomy prospect to future times!

What a sorrowful thing it is that such men live an inglorious life, drawn along by the general current of society, when they ought to be its regenerators! Has God endowed them with such nobleness of soul, such clearness of perception, for nothing? Should they, to whom he has given superior powers of insight and feeling, live as all the world live?

Southern men of this class have often risen up to reprove the men of the North, when they are drawn in to apologize for the system of slavery. Thus, on one occasion, a representative from one of the northern states, a gentleman now occupying the very highest rank of distinction and official station, used in Congress the following language:

The great relation of servitude, in some form or other, with greater or less departure from the theoretic equality of men, is inseparable from our nature. Domestic slavery is not, in my judgment, to be set down as an immoral or irreligious relation. The slaves of this country are better clothed and fed than the peasantry of some of the most prosperous states of Europe.

He was answered by Mr. Mitchell, of Tennessee, in these words:

Sir, I do not go the length of the gentleman from Massachusetts, and hold that the existence of slavery in this country is almost a blessing. On the contrary, I am firmly settled in the opinion that it is a great curse,—one of the greatest that could have been interwoven in our system. I, Mr. Chairman, am one of those whom these poor wretches call masters. I do not task them; I feed and clothe them well; but yet, alas! they are slaves, and slavery is a curse in any shape. It is no doubt true that there are persons in Europe far more degraded than our slaves,—worse fed, worse 37clothed, &c., but, sir, this is far from proving that negroes ought to be slaves.

The celebrated John Randolph, of Roanoke, said in Congress, on one occasion:

Sir, I envy neither the heart nor the head of that man from the North who rises here to defend slavery on principle.

The following lines from the will of this eccentric man show that this clear sense of justice, which is a gift of superior natures, at last produced some appropriate fruits in practice:

I give to my slaves their freedom, to which my conscience tells me they are justly entitled. It has a long time been a matter of the deepest regret to me, that the circumstances under which I inherited them, and the obstacles thrown in the way by the laws of the land, have prevented my emancipating them in my lifetime, which it is my full intention to do in case I can accomplish it.

The influence on such minds as these of that kind of theological teaching which prevails in the majority of pulpits at the South, and which justifies slavery directly from the Bible, cannot be sufficiently regretted. Such men are shocked to find their spiritual teachers less conscientious than themselves; and if the Biblical argument succeeds in bewildering them, it produces scepticism with regard to the Bible itself. Professor Stowe states that, during his residence in Ohio, he visited at the house of a gentleman who had once been a Virginian planter, and during the first years of his life was an avowed sceptic. He stated that his scepticism was entirely referable to this one cause,—that his minister had constructed a scriptural argument in defence of slavery which he was unable to answer, and that his moral sense was so shocked by the idea that the Bible defended such an atrocious system, that he became an entire unbeliever, and so continued until he came under the ministration of a clergyman in Ohio, who succeeded in presenting to him the true scriptural view of the subject. He immediately threw aside his scepticism, and became a member of a Christian church.

So we hear the Baltimore Sun, a paper in a slave state, and no way suspected of leaning towards abolitionism, thus scornfully disposing of the scriptural argument:

Messrs. Burgess, Taylor & Co., Sun Iron Building, send us a copy of a work of imposing exterior, a handsome work of nearly six hundred pages, from the pen of Rev. Josiah Priest, A.M., and published by Rev.............
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