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HOME > Biographical > Harriet Beecher Stowe > PART III. CHAPTER I. DOES PUBLIC OPINION PROTECT THE SLAVE?
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PART III. CHAPTER I. DOES PUBLIC OPINION PROTECT THE SLAVE?
The utter inefficiency of the law to protect the slave in any respect has been shown.

But it is claimed that, precisely because the law affords the slave no protection, therefore public opinion is the more strenuous in his behalf.

Nothing more frequently strikes the eye, in running over judicial proceedings in the courts of slave states, than announcements of the utter inutility of the law to rectify some glaring injustice towards this unhappy race, coupled with congratulatory remarks on that beneficent state of public sentiment which is to supply entirely this acknowledged deficiency of the law.

On this point it may, perhaps, be sufficient to ask the reader, whether North or South, to review in his own mind the judicial documents which we have presented, and ask himself what inference is to be drawn, as to the state of public sentiment, from the cases there presented,—from the pleas of lawyers, the decisions of judges, the facts sworn to by witnesses, and the general style and spirit of the whole proceedings.

In order to appreciate this more fully, let us compare a trial in a free state with a trial in a slave state.

In the free State of Massachusetts, a man of standing, learning and high connections, murdered another man. He did not torture him, but with one blow sent him in a moment from life. The murderer had every advantage of position, of friends; it may be said, indeed, that he had the sympathy of the whole United States; yet how calmly, with what unmoved and awful composure, did the judicial examination proceed! The murderer was condemned to die—what a sensation shook the country! Even sovereign states assumed the attitude of petitioners for him.

There was a voice of entreaty, from Maine to New Orleans. There were remonstrances, and there were threats; but still, with what passionless calmness retributive justice held on its way! Though the men who were her instruments were men of merciful and bleeding hearts, yet they bowed in silence to her sublime will. In spite of all that influence and wealth and power could do, a cultivated and intelligent man, from the first rank of society, suffered the same penalty that would fall on any other man who violated the sanctity of human life.

Now, compare this with a trial in a slave state. In Virginia, Souther also murdered a man; but he did not murder him by one merciful blow, but by twelve hours of torture so horrible that few readers could bear even the description of it. It was a mode of death which, to use the language that Cicero in his day applied to crucifixion, “ought to be forever removed from the sight, hearing, and from the very thoughts of mankind.” And to this horrible scene two white men were WITNESSES!

Observe the mode in which these two cases were tried, and the general sensation they produced. Hear the lawyers, in this case of Souther, coolly debating whether it can be considered any crime at all. Hear the decision of the inferior court, that it is murder in the second degree, and apportioning as its reward five years of imprisonment. See the horrible butcher coming up to the Superior Court in the attitude of an injured man! See the case recorded as that of Souther VERSUS The Commonwealth, and let us ask any intelligent man, North or South, what sort of public sentiment does this show!

Does it show a belief that the negro is a man? Does it not show decidedly that he is not considered as a man? Consider further the horrible principle which, re?ffirmed in the case, is the law of the land in Virginia. It is the policy of the law, in respect to the relation of master and slave, and for 125the sake of securing proper subordination on the part of the slave, to protect the master from prosecution in all such cases, even if the whipping and punishment be malicious, cruel and excessive!

When the most cultivated and intelligent men in the state formally, calmly and without any apparent perception of saying anything inhuman, utter such an astounding decision as this, what can be thought of it? If they do not consider this cruel, what is cruel? And, if their feelings are so blunted as to see no cruelty in such a decision, what hope is there of any protection to the slave?

This law is a plain and distinct permission to such wretches as Souther to inflict upon the helpless slave any torture they may choose, without any accusation or impeachment of crime. It distinctly tells Souther, and the white witnesses who saw his deed, and every other low, unprincipled man in the court, that it is the policy of the law to protect him in malicious, cruel and excessive punishments.

What sort of an education is this for the intelligent and cultivated men of a state to communicate to the lower and less-educated class? Suppose it to be solemnly announced in Massachusetts, with respect to free laborers or apprentices, that it is the policy of the law, for the sake of producing subordination, to protect the master in inflicting any punishment, however cruel, malicious and excessive, short of death. We cannot imagine such a principle declared, without a rebellion and a storm of popular excitement to which that of Bunker Hill was calmness itself;—but, supposing the State of Massachusetts were so “twice dead and plucked up by the roots” as to allow such a decision to pass without comment concerning her working classes,—suppose it did pass, and become an active, operative reality, what kind of an educational influence would it exert upon the commonwealth? What kind of an estimate of the working classes would it show in the minds of those who make and execute the law?

What an immediate development of villany and brutality would be brought out by such a law, avowedly made to protect men in cruelty! Cannot men be cruel enough, without all the majesty of law being brought into operation to sanction it, and make it reputable?

And suppose it were said, in vindication of such a law, “O, of course, no respectable, humane man would ever think of taking advantage of it.” Should we not think the old State of Massachusetts sunk very low, to have on her legal records direct assurances of protection to deeds which no decent man would ever do?

And, when this shocking permission is brought in review at the judgment-seat of Christ, and the awful Judge shall say to its makers, aiders, and abettors, Where is thy brother?—when all the souls that have called from under the altar, “How long, O Lord, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood,” shall rise around the judgment-seat as a great cloud of witnesses, and the judgment is set and the books are opened,—what answer will be made for such laws and decisions as these?

Will they tell the great Judge that it was necessary to preserve the slave system,—that it could not be preserved without them?

Will they dare look upon those eyes, which are as a flame of fire, with any such avowal?

Will He not answer, as with a voice of thunders, “Ye have killed the poor and needy, and ye have forgotten that the Lord was his helper”?

The deadly sin of slavery is its denial of humanity to man. This has been the sin of oppression, in every age. To tread down, to vilify and crush, the image of God, in the person of the poor and lowly, has been the great sin of man since the creation of the world. Against this sin all the prophets of ancient times poured forth their thunders. A still stronger witness was borne against this sin when God, in Jesus Christ, took human nature, and made each human being a brother of the Lord. But the last and most sublime witness shall be borne when a Man shall judge the whole earth—a Man who shall acknowledge for His brother the meanest slave, equally with the proudest master.

In most singular and affecting terms it is asserted in the Bible that the Father hath committed all judgment to the Son, because he is the Son of Man. That human nature, which, in the person of the poor slave, has been despised and rejected, scoffed and scorned, scourged and tortured, shall in that day be glorified; and it shall appear the most fearful of sins to have made light of the sacredness of humanity, as these laws and institutions of slavery have done. The fact is, that the whole system of slave-law, and the whole practice of the slave system, and the public sentiment that is formed by it, are alike based on the greatest of all heresies, a denial of equal human 126brotherhood. A whole race has been thrown out of the range of human existence, their immortality disregarded, their dignity as children of God scoffed at, their brotherhood with Christ treated as a fable, and all the law and public sentiment and practice with regard to them such as could be justified only on supposition that they were a race of inferior animals.

It is because the negro is considered an inferior animal, and not worthy of any better treatment, that the system which relates to him and the treatment which falls to him are considered humane.

Take any class of white men, however uneducated, and place them under the same system of laws, and make their civil condition in all respects like that of the negro, and would it not be considered the most outrageous cruelty?

Suppose the slave-law were enacted with regard to all the Irish in our country, and they were parcelled off as the property of any man who had money enough to buy them. Suppose their right to vote, their right to bring suit in any case, their right to bear testimony in courts of justice, their right to contract a legal marriage, their right to hold property or to make contracts of any sort, were all by one stroke of law blotted out. Furthermore, suppose it was forbidden to teach them to read and write, and that their children to all ages were “doomed to live without knowledge.” Suppose that, in judicial proceedings, it were solemnly declared, with regard to them, that the mere beating of an Irishman, “apart from any circumstances of cruelty, or any attempt to kill,” was no offence against the peace of the state. Suppose that it were declared that, for the better preservation of subjection among them, the law would protect the master in any kind of punishment inflicted, even if it should appear to be malicious, cruel and excessive; and suppose that monsters like Souther, in availing themselves of this permission, should occasionally torture Irishmen to death, but still this circumstance should not be deemed of sufficient importance to call for any restriction on the part of the master. Suppose it should be coolly said, “O yes, Irishmen are occasionally tortured to death, we know; but it is not by any means a general occurrence; in fact, no men of position in society would do it; and when cases of the kind do occur, they are indignantly frowned upon.”

Suppose it should be stated that the reason that the law restraining the power of the master cannot be made any more stringent is, that the general system cannot be maintained without allowing this extent of power to the master.

Suppose that, having got all the Irishmen in the country down into this condition, they should maintain that such was the public sentiment of humanity with regard to them as abundantly to supply the want of all legal rights, and to make their condition, on the whole, happier than if they were free. Should we not say that a public sentiment which saw no cruelty in thus depriving a whole race of every right dear to manhood could see no cruelty in anything, and had proved itself wholly unfit to judge upon the subject? What man would not rather see his children in the grave than see them slaves? What man, who, should he ............
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