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HOME > Biographical > Harriet Beecher Stowe > CHAPTER XIV. THE SPIRIT OF ST. CLARE.
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The general tone of the press and of the community in the slave states, so far as it has been made known at the North, has been loudly condemnatory of the representations of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Still, it would be unjust to the character of the South to refuse to acknowledge that she has many sons with candor enough to perceive, and courage enough to avow, the evils of her “peculiar institutions.” The manly independence exhibited by these men, in communities where popular sentiment rules despotically, either by law or in spite of law, should be duly honored. The sympathy of such minds as these is a high encouragement to philanthropic effort.

The author inserts a few testimonials from Southern men, not without some pride in being thus kindly judged by those who might have been naturally expected to read her book with prejudice against it.

The Jefferson Inquirer, published at Jefferson City, Missouri, Oct. 23, 1852, contains the following communication:

I have lately read this celebrated book, which, perhaps, has gone through more editions, and been sold in greater numbers, than any work from the American press, in the same length of time. It is a work of high literary finish, and its several characters are drawn with great power and truthfulness, although, like the characters in most novels and works of fiction, in some instances too highly colored. There is no attack on slave-holders as such, but, on the contrary, many of them are represented as highly noble, generous, humane and benevolent. Nor is there any attack upon them as a class. It sets forth many of the evils of slavery, as an institution established by law, but without charging these evils on those who hold the slaves, and seems fully to appreciate the difficulties in finding a remedy. Its effect upon the slave-holder is to make him a kinder and better master; to which none can object. This is said without any intention to endorse everything contained in the book, or, indeed, in any novel, or work of fiction. But, if I mistake not, there are few, excepting those who are greatly prejudiced, that will rise from a perusal of the book without being a truer and better Christian, and a more humane and benevolent man. As a slave-holder, I do not feel the least aggrieved. How Mrs. Stowe, the authoress, has obtained her extremely accurate knowledge of the negroes, their character, dialect, habits, &c., is beyond my comprehension, as she never resided—as appears from the preface—in a slave state, or among slaves or negroes. But they are certainly admirably delineated. The book is highly interesting and amusing, and will afford a rich treat to its reader.
Thomas Jefferson.

The opinion of the editor himself is given in these words:

Well, like a good portion of “the world and the rest of mankind,” we have read the book of Mrs. Stowe bearing the above title.

From numerous statements, newspaper paragraphs and rumors, we supposed the book was all that fanaticism and heresy could invent, and were therefore greatly prejudiced against it. But, on reading it, we cannot refrain from saying that it is a work of more than ordinary moral worth, and 60is entitled to consideration. We do not regard it as “a corruption of moral sentiment,” and a gross “libel on a portion of our people.” The authoress seems disposed to treat the subject fairly, though, in some particulars, the scenes are too highly colored, and too strongly drawn from the imagination. The book, however, may lead its readers at a distance to misapprehend some of the general and better features of “Southern life as it is” (which, by the way, we, as an individual, prefer to Northern life); yet it is a perfect mirror of several classes of people “we have in our mind’s eye, who are not free from all the ills flesh is heir to.” It has been feared that the book would result in injury to the slave-holding interests of the country; but we apprehend no such thing, and hesitate not to recommend it to the perusal of our friends and the public generally.

Mrs. Stowe has exhibited a knowledge of many peculiarities of Southern society which is really wonderful, when we consider that she is a Northern lady by birth and residence.

We hope, then, before our friends form any harsh opinions of the merits of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” and make up any judgment against us for pronouncing in its favor (barring some objections to it), that they will give it a careful perusal; and, in so speaking, we may say that we yield to no man in his devotion to Southern rights and interests.

The editor of the St. Louis (Missouri) Battery pronounces the following judgment:

We took up this work, a few evenings since, with just such prejudices against it as we presume many others have commenced reading it. We have been so much in contact with ultra abolitionists,—have had so much evidence that their benevolence was much more hatred for the master than love for the slave, accompanied with a profound ignorance of the circumstances surrounding both, and a most consummate, supreme disgust for the whole negro race,—that we had about concluded that anything but rant and nonsense was out of the question from a Northern writer upon the subject of slavery.

Mrs. Stowe, in these delineations of life among the lowly, has convinced us to the contrary.

She brings to the discussion of her subject a perfectly cool, calculating judgment, a wide, all-comprehending intellectual vision, and a deep, warm, sea-like woman’s soul, over all of which is flung a perfect iris-like imagination, which makes the light of her pictures stronger and more beautiful, as their shades are darker and terror-striking.

We do not wonder that the copy before us is of the seventieth thousand. And seventy thousand more will not supply the demand, or we mistake the appreciation of the American people of the real merits of literary productions. Mrs. Stowe has, in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” set up for herself a monument more enduring than marble. It will stand amid the wastes of slavery as the Memnon stands amid the sands of the African desert, telling both the white man and the negro of the approach of morning. The book is not an abolitionist work, in the offensive sense of the word. It is, as we have intimated, free from everything like fanaticism, no matter what amount of enthusiasm vivifies every page, and runs like electricity along every thread of the story. It presents at one view the excellences and the evils of the system of slavery, and breathes the true spirit of Christian benevolence for the slave, and charity for the master.

The next witness gives his testimony in a letter to the New York Evening Post:

The subjoined communication comes to us postmarked New Orleans, June 19, 1852:

“I have just been reading ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or, Scenes in Lowly Life,’ by Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe. It found its way to me through the channel of a young student, who purchased it at the North, to read on his homeward passage to New Orleans. He was entirely unacquainted with its character; he was attracted by its title, supposing it might amuse him while travelling. Through his family it was shown to me, as something that I would probably like. I looked at the author’s name, and said, ‘O, yes; anything from that lady I will read;’ otherwise I should have disregarded a work of fiction without such a title.

“The remarks from persons present were, that it was a most amusing work, and the scenes most admirably drawn to life. I accepted the offer of a perusal of it, and brought it home with me. Although I have not read every sentence, I have looked over the whole of it, and I now wish to bear my testimony to its just delineation of the position that the slave occupies. Colorings in the work there are, but no colorings of the actual and real position of the slave worse than really exist. Whippings to death do occur; I know it to be so. Painful separations of master and slave, under circumstances creditable to the master’s feelings of humanity, do also occur. I know that, too. Many families, after having brought up their children in entire dependence on slaves to do everything for them, and after having been indulged in elegances and luxuries, have exhausted all their means; and the black people only being left, whom they must sell, for further support. Running away, everybody knows, is the worst crime a slave can commit, in the eyes of his master, except it be a humane master; and from such few slaves care to run away.

“I am a slave-holder myself. I have long been dissatisfied with the system; particularly since I have made the Bible my criterion for judging of it. I am convinced, from what I read there, slavery is not in accordance with what God delights to honor in his creatures. I am altogether opposed to the system; and I intend always to use whatever influence I may have against it. I feel very bold in speaking against it, though living in the midst of it, because I am backed by a powerful arm, that can overturn and overrule the strongest efforts that the determined friends of slavery are now making for its continuance.

“I sincerely hope that more of Mrs. Stowes may be found, to show up the reality of slavery. It needs master minds to show it as it is, that it may rest upon its own merits.

“Like Mrs. Stowe, I feel that, since so many and good people, too, at the North, have quietly consented to leave the slave to his fate, by acquiescing in and approving the late measures of government, those who do feel differently should bestir themselves. Christian effort must do the work; and soon it would be done, if Christians would unite, not to destroy the union states, but honestly to speak out, and speak freely, against 61that they know is wrong. They are not aware what countenance they give to slave-holders to hold on to their prey. Troubled consciences can be easily quieted by the sympathies of pious people, particularly when interest and inclination come in as aids.

“I am told there is to be a reply made to ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin,’ entitled ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin as It Is.’ I am glad of it. Investigation is what is wanted.

“You will wonder why this communication is made to you by an unknown. It is simply made to encourage your heart, and strengthen your determination to persevere, and do all you can to put the emancipation of the slave in progress. Who I am you will never know; nor do I wish you to know, nor any one else. I am a

The following facts make the fiction of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” appear tame in the comparison. They are from the New York Evangelist.

Mr. Editor: I see in your paper that some persons deny the statements of Mrs. Stowe. I have read her book, every word of it. I was born in East Tennessee, near Knoxville, and, we thought, in an enlightened part of the union, much favored in our social, political and religious privileges, &c. &c. Well, I think about the year 1829, or, perhaps, ‘28, a good old German Methodist owned a black man named Robin, a Methodist preacher, and the manager of farm, distillery, &c., salesman and financier. This good old German Methodist had a son named Willey, a schoolmate of mine, and, as times were, a first-rate fellow. The old man also owned a keen, bright-eyed mulatto girl; and Willey—the naughty boy!—became enamored of the poor girl. The result was soon discovered; and our good German Methodist told his brother Robin to flog the girl for her wickedness. Brother Robin said he could not and would not perform such an act of cruelty as to flog the girl for what she could not help; and for that act of disobedience old Robin was flogged by the good old German brother, until he could not stand. He was carried to bed; and, some three weeks thereafter, when my father left the state, he was still confined to his bed from the effects of that flogging.

Again: in the fall of 1836 I went South, for my health, stopped at a village in Mississippi, and obtained employment in the largest house in the county, as a book-keeper, with a firm from Louisville, Ky. A man residing near the village—a bachelor, thirty years of age—became embarrassed, and executed a mortgage to my employer on a fine, likely boy, weighing about two hundred pounds,—quick-witted, active, obedient, and remarkably faithful, trusty and honest; so much so, that he was held up as an example. He had a wife that he loved. His owner cast his eyes upon her, and she became his paramour. His boy remonstrated with his master; told him that he tried faithfully to perform his every duly; that he was a good and faithful “nigger” to him; and it was hard, after he had toiled hard all day, and till ten o’clock at night, for him to have his domestic relations broken up and interfered with. The white man denied the charge, and the wife also denied it. One night, about the first of September, the boy came home earlier than usual, say about nine o’clock. It was a wet, dismal night; he made a fire in his cabin, went to get his supper, and found ocular demonstration of the guilt of his master. He became enraged, as I suppose any man would, seized a butcher-knife, and cut his master’s throat, stabbed his wife in twenty-seven places, came to the village, and knocked at the office-door. I told him to come in. He did so, and asked for my employer. I called him. The boy then told him that he had killed his master and his wife, and what for. My employer locked him up, and he, a doctor and myself, went out to the house of the old bachelor, and found him dead, and the boy’s wife nearly so. She, however, lived. We (my employer and myself) returned to the village, watched the boy until about sunrise, left him locked up, and went to get our breakfasts, intending to take the boy to jail (as it was my employer’s interest, if possible, to save the boy, having one thousand dollars at stake in him). But, whilst we were eating, some persons who had heard of the murder broke open the door, took the poor fellow, put a log chain round his neck, and started him for the woods, at the point of the bayonet, marching by where we were eating, with a great deal of noise. My employer, hearing it, ran out, and rescued the boy. The mob again broke in and took the boy, and marched him, as before stated, out of town.

My employer then begged them not to disgrace their town in such a manner; but to appoint a jury of twelve sober men, to decide what should be done. And twelve as sober men as could be found (I was not sober) said he must be hanged. They then tied a rope round his neck, and set him on an old horse. He made a speech to the mob, which I, at the time, thought if it had come from some senator, would have been received with rounds of applause; and, withal, he was more calm than I am now, in writing this. And, after he had told all about the deed, and its cause, he then kicked the horse out from under him, and was launched into eternity. My employer has often remarked that he never saw anything more noble, in his whole life, than the conduct of that boy.

Now, Mr. Editor, I have given you facts, and can give you names and dates. You can do what you think is best for the cause of humanity. I hope I have seen the evil of my former practices, and will endeavor to reform.
Very respectfully,
James L. Hill.
Springfield, Ill., Sept. 17th, 1852.

“The Opinion of a Southerner,” given below, appeared in the National Era, published at Washington. This is an anti-slavery journal, but by its generous tone and eminent ability it commands the respect and patronage of many readers in the slave states:

The following communication comes enclosed in an envelope from Louisiana.—Ed. Era.
To the Editor of the National Era:

I have just been reading, in the New York Observer of the 12th of August, an article from 62the Southern Free Press, headed by an editorial one from the Observer, that has for its caption, “Progress in the Right Quarter.”

The editor of the New York Observer says that the Southern Free Press has been an able and earnest defender of Southern institutions; but that he now advocates the passage of a law to prohibit the separation of families, and recommends instruction to a portion of slaves that are most honest and faithful. The Observer further adds: “It was such language as this that was becoming common, before Northern fanaticism ruined the prospects of emancipation.” It is not so! Northern fanaticism, as he calls it, has done everything that has been done for bettering the condition of the slave. Every one who knows anything of slavery for the last thirty years will recollect that about that time since, the condition of the slave in Louisiana—for about Louisiana only do I speak, because about Louisiana only do I know—was as depressed and miserable as any of the accounts of the abolitionists that ever I have seen have made it. I say abolitionists; I mean friends and advocates of freedom, in a fair and honorable way. If any doubt my assertion, let them seek for information. Let them get the black laws of Louisiana, and read them. Let them get facts from individuals of veracity, on whose statements they would rely.

This wretched condition of slaves roused the friends of humanity, who, like men, and Christian men, came fearlessly forward, and told truths, indignantly expressing their abhorrence of their oppressors. Such measures, of course, brought forth strife, which caused the cries of humanity to sound louder and louder throughout the land. The friends of freedom gained the ascendency in the hearts of the people, and the slave-holders were brought to a stand. Some, through fear of consequences, lessened their cruelties, while others were made to think, that, perhaps, were not unwilling to do so when it was urged upon them. Cruelties were not only refrained from, but the slave’s comforts were increased. A retrograde treatment now was not practicable. Fears of rebellion kept them to it. The slave had found friends, and they were watchful. It was, however, soon discovered that too many privileges, too much leniency, and giving knowledge, would destroy the power to keep down the slave, and tend to weaken, if not destroy, the system. Accordingly, stringent laws had to be passed, and a penalty attached to them. No one must teach, or cause to be taught, a slave, without incurring the penalty. The law is now in force. These necessary laws, as they are called, are all put down to the account of the friends of freedom—to their interference. I do suppose that they do justly belong to their interference; for who that studies the history of the world’s transactions does not know that in all contests with power the weak, until successful, will be dealt with more rigorously? Lose not sight, however, of their former condition. Law after law has since been passed to draw the cord tighter around the poor slave, and all attributed to the abolitionists. Well, anyhow, progress is being made. Here comes out the Southern Press, and makes some honorable concessions. He says: “The assaults upon slavery, made for the last twenty years by the North, have increased the evils of it. The treatment of slaves has undoubtedly become a delicate and difficult question. The South has a great and moral conflict to wage; and it is for her to put on the most invulnerable moral panoply.” He then thinks the availability of slave property would not be injured by passing a law to prohibit the separation of slave families; for he says, “Although cases sometimes occur which we observe are seized by these Northern fanatics as characteristic of the system,” &c. Nonsense! there are no “cases sometimes” occurring—no such thing! They are every day’s occurrences, though there are families that form the exception, and many, I would hope, that would not do it. While I am writing I can call before me three men that were brought here by negro traders from Virginia, each having left six or seven children, with their wives, from whom they have never heard. One other died here, a short time since, who left the same number in Carolina, from whom he had never heard.

I spent the summer of 1845 in Nashville. During the month of September, six hundred slaves passed through that place, in four different gangs, for New Orleans—final destination, probably, Texas. A goodly proportion were women; young women, of course; many mothers must have left not only their children, but their babies. One gang only had a few children. I made some excursions to the different watering places around Nashville; and while at Robinson, or Tyree Springs, twenty miles from Nashville, on the borders of Kentucky and Tennessee, my hostess said to me, one day, “Yonder comes a gang of slaves, chained.” I went to the road-side, and viewed them. For the better answering my purpose of observation, I stopped the white man in front, who was at his ease in a one-horse wagon, and asked him if those slaves were for sale. I counted them and observed their position. They were divided by three one-horse wagons, each containing a man-merchant, so arranged as to command the whole gang. Some were unchained; sixty were chained, in two companies, thirty in each, the right hand of one to the left hand of the other opposite one, making fifteen each side of a large ox-chain, to which every hand was fastened, and necessarily compelled to hold up,—men and women promiscuously, and about in equal proportions,—all young people. No children here, except a few in a wagon behind, which were the only children in the four gangs. I said to a respectable mulatto woman in the house, “Is it true that the negro traders take mothers from their babies?” “Missis, it is true; for here, last week, such a girl [naming her], who lives about a mile off, was taken after dinner,—knew nothing of it in the morning,—sold, put into the gang, and her baby was given away to a neighbor. She was a stout young woman, and brought a good price.”

The annexation of Texas induced the spirited traffic that summer. Coming down home in a small boat, water low, a negro trader on board had forty-five men and women crammed into a little spot, some handcuffed. One respectable-looking man had left a wife and seven children in Nashville. Near Memphis the boat stopped at a plantation by previous arrangement, to take in thirty more. An hour’s delay was the stipulated time with the captain of the boat. Thirty young men and women came down the bank of the Mississippi, looking wretchedness personified—just from the field; in appearance dirty, disconsolate and oppressed; some with an old shawl under their arm, 63a few had blankets; some had nothing at all—looked as though they cared for nothing. I calculated, while looking at them coming down the bank, that I could hold in a bundle all that the whole of them had. The short notice that was given them, when about to leave, was in consequence of the fears entertained that they would slip one side. They all looked distressed,—leaving all that was dear to them behind, to be put under the hammer, for the property of the highest bidder. No children here! The whole seventy-five were crammed into a little space on the boat, men and women all together.

I am happy to see that morality is rearing its head with advocates for slavery, and that a “most invulnerable moral panoply” is thought to be necessary. I hope it may not prove to be like Mr. Clay’s compromises. The Southern Press says: “As for caricatures of slavery in ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ and the ‘White Slave,’ all founded in imaginary circumstances, &c., we consider them highly incendiary. He who undertakes to stir up strife between two individual neighbors, by detraction, is justly regarded, by all men and all moral codes, as a criminal.” Then he quotes the ninth commandment, and adds: “But to bear false witness against whole states, and millions of people, &c., would seem to be a crime as much deeper in turpitude as the mischief is greater and the provocation less.” In the first place, I will put the Southern Press upon proof that Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe has told one falsehood. If she has told truth, it is, indeed, a powerful engine of “assault on slavery,” such as these Northern fanatics have made for the “last twenty............
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