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HOME > Biographical > Harriet Beecher Stowe > PART II. CHAPTER I.
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The New York Courier and Enquirer of November 5th contained an article which has been quite valuable to the author, as summing up, in a clear, concise and intelligible form, the principal objections which may be urged to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It is here quoted in full, as the foundation of the remarks in the following pages.

The author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” that writer states, has committed false-witness against thousands and millions of her fellow-men.

She has done it [he says] by attaching to them as slaveholders, in the eyes of the world, the guilt of the abuses of an institution of which they are absolutely guiltless. Her story is so devised as to present slavery in three dark aspects: first, the cruel treatment of the slaves; second, the separation of families; and, third, their want of religious instruction.

To show the first, she causes a reward to be offered for the recovery of a runaway slave, “dead or alive,” when no reward with such an alternative was ever heard of, or dreamed of, south of Mason and Dixon’s line, and it has been decided over and over again in Southern courts that “a slave who is merely flying away cannot be killed.” She puts such language as this into the mouth of one of her speakers:—“The master who goes furthest and does the worst only uses within limits the power that the law gives him;” when, in fact, the civil code of the very state where it is represented the language was uttered—Louisiana—declares that

“The slave is entirely subject to the will of his master, who may correct and chastise him, though not with unusual rigor, nor so as to maim or mutilate him, or to expose him to the danger of loss of life, or to cause his death.”

And provides for a compulsory sale

“When the master shall be convicted of cruel treatment of his slaves, and the judge shall deem proper to pronounce, besides the penalty established for such cases, that the slave be sold at public auction, in order to place him out of the reach of the power which the master has abused.”

“If any person whatsoever shall wilfully kill his slave, or the slave of another person, the said person, being convicted thereof, shall be tried and condemned agreeably to the laws.”

In the General Court of Virginia, last year, in the case of Souther v. the Commonwealth, it was held that the killing of a slave by his master and 68owner, by wilful and excessive whipping, is murder in the first degree, though it may not have been the purpose of the master and owner to kill the slave! And it is not six months since Governor Johnston, of Virginia, pardoned a slave who killed his master, who was beating him with brutal severity.

And yet, in the face of such laws and decisions as these, Mrs. Stowe winds up a long series of cruelties upon her other black personages, by causing her faultless hero, Tom, to be literally whipped to death in Louisiana, by his master, Legree; and these acts, which the laws make criminal, and punish as such, she sets forth in the most repulsive colors, to illustrate the institution of slavery!

So, too, in reference to the separation of children from their parents. A considerable part of the plot is made to hinge upon the selling, in Louisiana, of the child Eliza, “eight or nine years old,” away from her mother; when, had its inventor looked in the statute-book of Louisiana, she would have found the following language:

“Every person is expressly prohibited from selling separately from their mothers the children who shall not have attained the full age of ten years.”

“Be it further enacted, That if any person or persons shall sell the mother of any slave child or children under the age of ten years, separate from said child or children, or shall, the mother living, sell any slave child or children of ten years of age, or under, separate from said mother, said person or persons shall be fined not less than one thousand nor more than two thousand dollars, and be imprisoned in the public jail for a period of not less than six months nor more than one year.”

The privation of religious instruction, as represented by Mrs. Stowe, is utterly unfounded in fact. The largest churches in the union consist entirely of slaves. The first African church in Louisville, which numbers fifteen hundred persons, and the first African church in Augusta, which numbers thirteen hundred, are specimens. On multitudes of the large plantations in the different parts of the South the ordinances of the gospel are as regularly maintained, by competent ministers, as in any other communities, north or south. A larger proportion of the slave population are in communion with some Christian church, than of the white population in any part of the country. A very considerable portion of every southern congregation, either in city or country, is sure to consist of blacks; whereas, of our northern churches, not a colored person is to be seen in one out of fifty.

The peculiar falsity of this whole book consists in making exceptional or impossible cases the representatives of the system. By the same process which she has used, it would not be difficult to frame a fatal argument against the relation of husband and wife, or parent and child, or of guardian and ward; for thousands of wives and children and wards have been maltreated, and even murdered. It is wrong, unpardonably wrong, to impute to any relation of life those enormities which spring only out of the worst depravity of human nature. A ridiculously extravagant spirit of generalization pervades this fiction from beginning to end. The Uncle Tom of the authoress is a perfect angel, and her blacks generally are half angels; her Simon Legree is a perfect demon, and her whites generally are half demons. She has quite a peculiar spite against the clergy; and, of the many she introduces at different times into the scenes, all, save an insignificant exception, are Pharisees or hypocrites. One who could know nothing of the United States and its people, except by what he might gather from this book, would judge that it was some region just on the confines of the infernal world. We do not say that Mrs. Stowe was actuated by wrong motives in the preparation of this work, but we do say that she has done a wrong which no ignorance can excuse and no penance can expiate.

A much-valued correspondent of the author, writing from Richmond, Virginia, also uses the following language:

I will venture this morning to make a few suggestions which have occurred to me in regard to future editions of your work, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” which I desire should have all the influence of which your genius renders it capable, not only abroad, but in the local sphere of slavery, where it has been hitherto repudiated. Possessing already the great requisites of artistic beauty and of sympathetic affection, it may yet be improved in regard to accuracy of statement without being at all enfeebled. For example, you do less than justice to the formalized laws of the Southern States, while you give more credit than is due to the virtue of public or private sentiment in restricting the evil which the laws permit.

I enclose the following extracts from a southern paper:

“‘I’ll manage that ar; they’s young in the business, and must spect to work cheap,’ said Marks, as he continued to read. ‘Thar’s three on ‘em easy cases, ‘cause all you’ve got to do is to shoot ‘em, or swear they is shot; they couldn’t, of course, charge much for that.’”

“The reader will observe that two charges against the South are involved in this precious discourse;—one that it is the habit of Southern masters to offer a reward, with the alternative of ‘dead or alive,’ for their fugitive slaves; and the other, that it is usual for pursuers to shoot them. Indeed, we are led to infer that, as the shooting is the easier mode of obtaining the reward, it is the more frequently employed in such cases. Now, when a Southern master offers a reward for his runaway slave, it is because he has lost a certain amount of property, represented by the negro which he wishes to recover. What man of Vermont, having an ox or an ass that had gone astray, would forthwith offer half the full value of the animal, not for the carcass, which might be turned to some useful purpose, but for the unavailing satisfaction of its head? Yet are the two cases exactly parallel? With regard to the assumption that 69men are permitted to go about, at the South, with double-barrelled guns, shooting down runaway negroes, in preference to apprehending them, we can only say that it is as wicked and wilful as it is ridiculous. Such Thugs there may have been as Marks and Loker, who have killed negroes in this unprovoked manner; but, if they have escaped the gallows, they are probably to be found within the walls of our state penitentiaries, where they are comfortably provided for at public expense. The laws of the Southern States, which are designed, as in all good governments, for the protection of persons and property, have not been so loosely framed as to fail of their object where person and property are one.

“The law with regard to the killing of runaways is laid down with so much clearness and precision by a South Carolina judge, that we cannot forbear quoting his dictum, as directly in point. In the case of Witsell v. Earnest and Parker, Colcock J. delivered the opinion of the court:
Jan. term, 1818 1 Nott & McCord’s S. C. Rep. 182.

“‘By the statute of 1740, any white man may apprehend, and moderately correct, any slave who may be found out of the plantation at which he is employed; and if the slave assaults the white person, he may be killed; but a slave who is merely flying away cannot be killed. Nor can the defendants be justified by the common law, if we consider the negro as a person; for they were not clothed with the authority of the law to apprehend him as a felon, and without such authority he could not be killed.’

“‘It’s commonly supposed that the property interest is a sufficient guard in these cases. If people choose to ruin their possessions, I don’t know what’s to be done. It seems the poor creature was a thief and a drunkard; and so there won’t be much hope to get up sympathy for her.’

“‘It is perfectly outrageous,—it is horrid, Augustine! It will certainly bring down vengeance upon you.’

“‘My dear cousin, I didn’t do it, and I can’t help it; I would, if I could. If low-minded, brutal people will act like themselves, what am I to do? They have absolute control; they are irresponsible despots. There would be no use in interfering; there is no law, that amounts to anything practically, for such a case. The best we can do is to shut our eyes and ears, and let it alone. It’s the only resource left us.’

“In a subsequent part of the same conversation, St. Clare says:

“‘For pity’s sake, for shame’s sake, because we are men born of women, and not savage beasts, many of us do not, and dare not,—we would scorn to use the full power which our savage laws put into our hands. And he who goes furthest and does the worst only uses within limits the power that the law gives him.’

“Mrs. Stowe tells us, through St. Clare, that ‘there is no law that amounts to anything’ in such cases, and that he who goes furthest in severity towards his slave,—that is, to the deprivation of an eye or a limb, or even the destruction of life,—‘only uses within limits the power that the law gives him.’ This is an awful and tremendous charge, which, lightly and unwarrantably made, must subject the maker to a fearful accountability. Let us see how the matter stands upon the statute-book of Louisiana. By referring to the civil code of that state, chapter............
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