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CITY LIFE IN THE SOUTH. - Harriet Martineau, Retrospect of Western Travel, vol. 2 
Retrospect of Western Travel in Three Vols (London: Saunders and Otley, 1838). Vol. 2.
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CITY LIFE IN THE SOUTH.
The disasters of our railroad journey to Charleston have been described elsewhere.* We were to have arrived at the city about six P.M. of the 10th of March, when every object would have looked bright in the sunshine of a spring evening. As it was, we reached the railroad station at ten minutes past four the next morning. There was much delay in obtaining our luggage, and getting away from the station. We could not think of disturbing the slumbers of the friends whose hospitality we were about to enjoy; and we therefore proceeded in the omnibus which was in waiting, to the Planters' Hotel. We were all hungry, having scarcely tasted food since noon the day before; and very weary, having travelled the whole of two nights, and enjoyed no sufficient rest since we left Richmond, nine days before. Every little event became a great one to persons so exhausted. The omnibus jolted and stopped, and we were told that an accident had happened. The gentlemen got out, but the darkness was total. A light was brought from a private house, and it appeared that a wheel had touched the kirbstone! It seemed as if horses were never backed in Charleston, so long were we in proceeding. When I afterwards saw what the streets of Charleston are like. I did not wonder at any extreme of caution in a driver. The soil is a fine sand, which after rain turns into a most deceptive mud; and there is very little pavement yet. The deficiency of stone is, however, becoming supplied by importation, and the inhabitants hope soon to be able to walk about the city in all weathers, without danger of being lost in crossing the streets. They told me, as an on dit, that a horse was drowned, last winter, in a mud-hole, in a principal street.
At the hotel, all was dark and comfortless. We made a stir among the servants: the gentlemen got two men to light a fire, and fetch us wine and biscuits; and we persuaded two women to make up beds, and warm some water. We were foolish enough to be tempted to take wine and water, as we could have neither tea nor coffee; and when we lose from our unrefreshing sleep, an hour after noon, we formed such a dismal group of aching heads us could hardly be matched out of an hospital.
Two of us proceeded, in a light pretty buck-carriage, to the friend's house where we were expected. Nothing could be more considerate than our reception. A pile of English and American letters and newspapers awaited us; and our hostess know that we must be fatigued: a fire was therefore immediately lighted in my chamber, and we were told that the day was our own; that our dinner would be sent up to us, and that we should not be expected in the drawing-room till we chose to join the family. I shall not soon forget the refreshment of lingering over family letters and London newspapers; of feeling that we were not liable to be called up in the dark for a fortnight at least; and of seeing my clothes laid in drawers, for the first time, I think, since I landed. A chest of drawers is seldom to be seen in the chambers,—or, at least, in the guest-chambers of American houses. We were favoured in the article of closets, with rows of pegs; but I believe I had the use of a chest of drawers only two or three times during my travels.
A circumstance happened this day, which, as being illustrative of manners, may be worth relating. The day before I left Richmond, Virginia, two companions and myself had employed a hack-carriage, driven by a black, for some hours; and on dismissing had paid the fare, which we thought reasonable.—two dollars and a half. The proprietor of the carriage, and master of the driver, had by some means heard who it was that had been his customer. Finding that I had left Richmond, he took the trouble to send the two dollars and a half down to Charleston. five hundred miles, with a message that it was not for the honour of Virginia that I should pay carriage hire! and the money was awaiting me on my arrival.
I had soon reason to perceive that Charleston deserves its renown for hospitality. A lecturer on phrenology sent us tickets for his course: six carriages were immediately placed at my disposal, and the servants came every morning for orders for the day. The difficulty was to use them all and equally: but, by employing one for the morning drive, and another for the evening visiting, we contrived to show our friends that we were willing to avail ourselves of their kindness. I believe there was scarcely a morning during our stay when some pretty present did not arrive before I rose: sometimes it was a bouquet of hyacinths, which were extremely rare that year, from the lateness and severity of the frosts: sometimes it was a dish of preserve or marmalade; sometimes a feather fan. when the day promised to be hot; sometimes a piece of Indian work; sometimes of indigenous literary production. One morning, I found on my window-seat a copy of the Southern Review, and a bonquet of hyacinths from General Hayne; and the next, a basket of wafers from Mrs. P.; and the third, a set of cambric handkerchiefs, inimitably marked with complimentary devices, from Mrs. W.
In the midst of all this, there was no little watchfulness among a totally different set of persons, about my proceedings with regard to the negroes, I had not been in the city twenty-four hours before we were amused with ridiculous reports of my championship on behalf of the blacks; and long after I had left the place, reported speeches of mine were in circulation which were remarkably striking to me when I at length heard them. This circumstance shows how irritable the minds of the people are upon this topic. I met with no difficulty, however, among my associates. I made it a rule to allow others to introduce the subject of slavery, knowing that they would not fail to do so, and that I might learn as much from their method of approaching the topic as from any thing they could say upon it. Before half an hour had passed, every man, woman or child I might be conversing with had entered upon the question. As it was likewise a rule with me never to conceal or soften my own opinions, and never to allow mvself to be irritated by what I heard, (for it is too serious a subject to indulge frailtics with.) the best understanding existed between slave-holders and myself. We never quarrelled; while I believe we never failed to perceive the extent of the difference of opinion and feeling between us. I met with much more cause for admiration in their frankness than reason to complain of illiberality. The following may serve as a specimen of this part of our intercourse:—
The first time I met an eminent Southern gentleman, a defender of slavery, he said to me (within the half hour)—
“I wish you would not be in such a hurry away. I wish you would stay a year in this city. I wish you would stay ten years; and then you would change your opinions.”
“Your opinions on slavery.”
“What do you know of my opinions on slavery?”
“Oh, we know them well enough: we have all read ‘Demerara.’”
“Very well: now we shall understand each other; for I must tell you that I think about slavery exactly as I did when I wrote that story. Nothing, that I have seen shows me that I have anything to qualify of what is said there. So now you do know my opinions.”
“Oh yes. I don't want to know anything more of your opinions. I want you to know mine.”
“That is exactly what I want. When will you let me have them?”
We had engaged to dine with this gentleman the next week: it was now arranged that our party should go two hours earlier than the other guests, in order to hear this gentleman's exposition of slavery. He was well prepared; and his statement of facts and reasons was clear, ready, and entertaining. The fault was in the narrowness of his premises; for his whole argument was grounded on the supposition that human rights consist in sufficient subsistence in return for labour. Before he began I told him that I fully understood his wish not to argue the question, and that I came to hear his statement, not to controvert it; but that I must warn liim not to take my silence for assent. Upon this understanding we proceeded; with some little irritability on his part when I asked questions, but with no danger of any quarrel. I never found the slightest difficulty in establishing a similar clear understanding with every slave-holder I met. In the drawing-room of the boarding-house at Richmond, Virginia, three gentlemen, two of whom were entire strangers, attacked me in the presence of a pretty large company, one afternoon. This was a direct challenge, which I did not think fit to decline, and we had it all out. They were irritable at first, but softened as they went on; and when, at the end of three hours, we had exhausted the subject, we were better friends than when we began.
Some of the reports of my championship of the negroes arose from a circumstance which occurred the day after my arrival at Charleston. Our host proposed to take us up a church steeple, to obtain a view of the city and its environs. The key of the church was at the Guard House opposite; and our host said we might as well go for it ourselves, and thus get a sight of the Guard House. One of the city authorities showed us over it; and we staid a few moments in a room where a lady was preferring a complaint against two negro boys for robbing a hen-roost. They were proved guilty, and sentenced to be flogged at the place of punishment at the other end of the city.
The view from the church steeple was very fine; and the whole, steeped in spring sunshine, had an oriental air which took me by surprise. The city was spread out beneath us in a fan-like form, its streets converging towards the harbour. The heat and moisture of the climate give to the buildings the hue of age so as to leave nothing of the American air of spruceness in the aspect of the place. The sandy streets, the groups of mulattoes, the women with turbaned heads, surmounted with water-pots and baskets of fruit; the small panes of the house windows; the yucca bristling in the gardens below us, and the hot haze through which we saw the blue main and its islands, all looked so oriental, as to strike us with wonder. We saw Ashley and Cooper rivers, bringing down produce to the main, and were taught the principal buildings,—the churches, and the Custom-house, built just before the Revolution,—and the leading streets,—Broad and Meeting Streets intersecting, and affording access to all that we were to see. It would be wise in travellers to make it their first business in a foreign city to climb the loftiest point they can reach, so as to have the scene they are to explore laid out as in a living map beneath them. It is scarcely credible how much time is saved, and confusion of ideas obviated by these means. I gained much by mounting the State House at Boston, Pennsylvania Hospital at Philadelphia; the new hotel at Baltimore; the Capitol at Washington; the high hills about Cincinnati; the college at Lexington; the hill where the State House is to be at Nashville; the Cotton-press at New Orleans; and this church steeple at Charleston.
Another care of the traveller should be to glance at the local newspapers. This first morning I found a short newspaper article which told volumes. It was an Ordinance for raising ways and means for the city. Charitable and religious institutions were left free from taxation; as were the salaries of the clergy and schoolmasters. There was a direct levy on real property, on slaves, and on carriages, and a special tax on free people of colour: a class who, being precluded from obtaining taxable property and luxuries, were yet made to pay by means of a poll-tax.
Our mornings were divided between receiving callers, and drives about the city, and in the country. The country is flat and sandy; and the only objects arc planters' mansions, surrounded with evergreen woods; the gardens exhibiting the tropical yucca, and fenced with hedges of the Cherokee rose. From the lower part of the city, glimpses of the main may be had; but the intervening space is very ugly, except at high tide; an expanse of reeking slime, over which large flocks of buzzards are incessantly hovering. On the top of each of the long row of stakes discovered at low water sits a buzzard. A fine is imposed for killing one of these birds,—the unsalaricd scavengers of the moister districts of the city.
The houses which we visited in returning calls were generally handsome; with capacious piazzas, rich plants and bouquets, and good furniture. The political bias of the inhabitant was often discoverable from the books on the table, or the prints and casts on the walls. In no society in the world could the division of parties be more distinct, and their alienation more threatening than in Charleston, at the time I was there.* The Union gentlemen and ladies wore dispirited and timid. They asked one another's opinion whether there was not some mysterious stir among the Nullifiers; whether they were not concerting measures for a new defiance of the General Government. This anxious watchfulness contrasted strangely with the arrogant bearing of the leading Nullifiers. During my stay, Mr. Calhoun and his family arrived from Congress; and there was something very striking in the welcome he received, like that of a chief returned to the bosom of his clan. He stalked about like a monarch of the little domain; and there was certainly an air of mysterious understanding between him and his followers; whether there was really any great secret under it or not. One lady who had contributed ample amounts of money to the Nullification funds, and a catechism to Nullification lore, amused while she grieved me by the strength of her political feelings. While calling on her, one morning, the conversation turned on prints, and I asked an explanation of a strange-looking one which hung opposite my eye; the portrait of a gentleman, the top of the head and the dress visible, but the face obliterated or covered over. She was only too ready to explain. It was a portrait of President Jackson, which she had hung up in days when he enjoyed her favour. Since Nullification she had covered over the face, to show how she hated him. A stranger hardly knows what to think of a cause whose leaders will flatter and cherish the perpetrators of a piece of petty spite like this: yet this lady is treated as if she were a main pillar of the Nullification party.
Some of our mornings were spent in going with the Hayne and Calhoun families to the public library, to a panorama, and to the arsenal. The library is supported by private subscriptions, and is very creditable to the city, whose zeal about its books might well have been exhausted by the repeated destruction of the library by fire, and in the war. We amused ourselves with files of newspapers, which have survived all disasters,—old London Gazettes and colonial papers extending as far back as 1678.
We visited the arsenal twice; the second time with Mr. Calhoun and Governor Hayne, when we saw the arms and ammunition, which were not visible the first time, because “the key was not on the premises;” a token that no invasion was immediately expected. There were two bombs brought in by Governor Hayne; and all the warlike apparatus which was made ready during the Nullification struggle. It is difficult to believe that Mr. Calhoun seriously meant to go to war with such means as his impoverished State could furnish; but there is no doubt that he did intend it. The ladies were very animated in their accounts of their State Rights Ball, held in the area of the arsenal; and of their subscriptions of jewels to the war fund. They were certainly in earnest.
The soldiers were paraded in our presence, some eleven or twelve recruits, I believe: and then Mr. Calhoun first, and Governor Hayne afterwards, uncovered and addressed them with us much gravity and effusion of patriotic sentiment, as if we had been standing on the verge of a battle-field. Some of our party were of Union politics; and they looked exceedingly arch during the speechifying. It will be too sad if this child's play should be turned into bloodshed after all, for the gratification of any man's restless ambition, or in the guilty hope of protracting slavery under the reprobation of the whole of society, except a small band of mercenaries.
My chief interest in these expeditions was in the personages who accompanied me. Governor Hayne's name is well known in England, from his having furnished the provocation to Webster's renowed speech, exhibiting the constitutional argument against Nullification: and from his being afterwards the leader of the struggle in South Carolina, while Mr. Calhoun fulfilled the same function in Congress. He is descended from the Haynes whose cruel sufferings in the Revolutionary War are notorious, to the disgrace of the British: one of the two brothers having perished through the miseries of a British prison-ship, and the other having been hanged by Lord Rawdon and Colonel Balfour, under circumstances which, I believe, justify the horror and reprobation with which the act is viewed by all who have heard the story. It is one of the most dreadful tales of the Revolutionary War; and the English have not been behind the Americans in their feeling with regard to the case. The circumstances are briefly these:—
Colonel Isaac Hayne was a peaceful planter at the time of the breaking out of the war. He lived upon his estate all the year round, and was remarkably quiet and domestic in his temper and habits. He served in the American army during the siege of Charleston; and on the fall of the city returned to his plantation, under the guarantee of security to person and property, shared by all who had capitulated at Charleston. The small-pox broke out in his family; all his children had it; one was dead, and his wife dying, when Colonel Hayne received peremptory orders to repair to the British standard, to take up arms as a British subject, or to surrender himself prisoner at Charleston. He declared that no force should separate him from his dying wife and children, and asserted his inviolability under the capitulation of Charleston. The British officer, Colonel Bellingall, who brought the order, assured him of his immediate return home if he would repair to Charleston, to give an assurance that he would “demean himself as a British subject, while the country should be covered with a British army.” Colonel Hayne went, with the written agreement of Colonel Bellingall in his hand. He was, however, detained, and offered the alternative of lasting imprisonment, or of signing an unconditional promise to obey orders as a British subject. He declared that he never would bear arms against his country, and was assured that this act would never ber equired of him. There were several witnesses to his having signed under this protest and assurance. He returned to his family, finding another of his children dead, and his wife just expiring.
He observed the strictest neutrality while the promise under which he signed was kept. His house was alternately occupied by English and American troops, when the prospects of the republicans began to improve; and he is known to have refused to let his horses be used by friends in the American force,—in short, to have kept his engagement like a man of honour. His position was, however, considered to perilous an one, and he was summoned to join the British standard. He considered that this was such a violation of a promise on the part of the British officers as set him free. He joined his countrymen, fought, and was captured. He was imprisoned at Charleston for some weeks till Lord Rawdon came to town, and then, after two days' notice, brought before a Court of Inquiry, consisting of four general officers and five captains. Having no idea that this was anything more than a preliminary measure, and finding that the members of the Court were not sworn, nor the witnesses examined on oath, Colonel Hayne called no witnesses, and the proceedings closed without his being aware that he had gone through an affair of life or death. He was wholly taken by surprise, therefore, at the news conveyed to him by letter that he was to die on the gibbet the next day but one. He was respited for forty-eight hours, in order that he might see his children, and in consideration of the “humane treatment shown by his hands;” and he spent the interval in the discharge of business and affectionate intercourse with his friends. His chief regret was, that this act would probably provoke retaliation, and so lead to the shedding of much innocent blood. He required his eldest son, a boy of thirteen, to be present at his execution, in order to receive his body, and see that it was laid in the family burial place. The boy, frantic with grief, declared that he should not long survive him: and it is not surprising that he shortly became insane, and died. Colonel Hayne met his fate with a tranquility which convinced his enemies that (to use their own words) “though he did not die in a good cause, he must, at least, have acted from a persuasion of its being so.”
Such stories are very painful; but they ought not to be forgotten. The horrors of colonial war may not be over; and it is well that the conflicts of duty and affection which can take place only in wars of this character should be remembered, while Great Britain has colonies which she may oppress, and noble subjects, like Colonel Hayne, whom she may be even now alienating, and whose contrariety of affections she may be yet again driven or tempted to solve in blood.
The present representative of the family was made Speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives at the age of twenty-seven. He was afterwards Attorney-General of the State, a senator in Congress, and Governor of the State. During the preparations for war in 1832, he was the soul of every movement. He is now considered to be deeply involved in the Southern transactions relating to the acquisition of Texas, whatever these may in reality be, and to have linked his fortunes with the slavery question. When I saw him he was forty-four years of age, with a robust, active frame, a lively, pleasant countenance, and very engaging manners,—with much of the eagerness of the school-boy, mixed with the case of the gentleman. He can do everything better than reason, as appeared in the senatorial conflict, in which he was ground to powder by the tremendous weight and force of Webster's constitutional argument and sound declamation. Governor Hayne can state clearly, enforce ardently, illustrate gracefully, and boast magnificently; but he cannot reason. His best friends are probably the most anxious to admit this; for there is such want of reason in his present course of opposition to the first principles on which society is founded, and in his attachment to worn-out feudal institutions, that the observer, however friendly, finds himself reduced to the alternative of supposing this busy mind perverted by unholy passions, or by an unbalanced imagination.
Governor Hamilton is less known at a distance; but he is, perhaps, a yet more perfect representative of the Southern gentlemen. He is handsome, and his manners have all the grace, without much of the arrogance of the bearing of his class. I was much struck too with his generous appreciation of the powers and virtues of the great men of every party at Washington:—a moral grace which I should have been glad to see shared in a greater degree by some of his neighbours. Governor Hamilton has done what he could to impair the favourable impressions he makes upon all who know him by the atrocious Report he issued in 1835, as Chairman of a Committee of the South Carolina Legislature appointed to consider what steps should be taken in defence of “the peculiar domestic institutions of the South.” This report is unconstitutional in its requisitions, and savage in its spirit towards the abolitionist.
With these gentlemen, their friends, and the ladies of their families, we saw many sights, and passed many pleasant hours: and with gentlemen and ladies of the opposite party we spent other portions of our leisure. I was told much of the Poor-House, rather in a tone of boasting; and I was anxious to see what a Poor-House could be in a region where all labourers are private property, and where pauperism would therefore seem to be obviated. Infirmity, vice, and orphanhood keep up a small amount of pauperism, even here; reducing capitalists to a state of dependance. There were about 120 inmates when I visited the institution; and the number was soon to be reduced by the periodical clearance made by sending the children to the Orphan House, and the insane to the State asylum at Columbia. The intemperate and vagrants were employed in coffin-making and stone-breaking. By a slight stretch of the law, persons found drunk are sent here and locked up for a month. We saw two respectable-looking men who had been brought in intoxicated the day before, and who looked duly ashamed of their situation.
The orphan House has been established about forty years; and it contained, at the time of my visit, 200 children. As none but whites are admitted, it is found to be no encouragement to vice to admit all destitute children whether orphans or not; for the licentiousness of the South takes the women of colour for its victims. The children in this establishment are taught reading, writing, and arithmetic; and the girls sewing: but the prejudice against work appears as much here as any where. No active labour goes on: the boys do not even garden. No employment is attempted which bears any resemblance to what is done by staves. The boys are apprenticed out to trades at fourteen; and the girls to mantua-making; almost the only employment in which a white Southern woman can earn a subsistence. The children are taken in from the age of two years; but they generally enter at the ages of four, five, or six. I was rather surprised to see them badged; an anti-republican practice which had better be abolished; but I woundered the less when I observed the statue of Pitt still standing in the court-yard; with the right arm shot off in the war, however. There is a good-sized church connected with this establishment, which was well filled on the afternoon when I went with the family of a friend, who was taking his turn with his brother clergy to preach.
Charleston is the place in which to see those contrasting seenes of human life brought under the eye which moralists gather together for the purpose of impressing the imagination. The stranger has but to pass from street to street, to live from hour to hour in this city, to witness in conjunction the extremes between which there is everywhere else a wide interval. The sights of one morning I should remember if every other particular of my travels were forgotten. I was driven round the city by a friend whose conversation was delightful all the way. Though I did not agree in all his views of society, the thoughtfulness of his mind and the benevolence of his exertions betokened a healthy state of feeling, and gave value to all he said. He had been a friend of the lamented Grimkeé; and he showed me the house where Grimké lived and died, and told me much of him,—of the nobleness of his character, the extent of his attainments, and how, dying at fifty-four, he had lived by industry a long life. My mind was full of the contemplation of the heights which human beings are destined to reach, when I was plunged into a new scene.—one which it was my own conscientious choice to visit, but for which the preceding conversation had ill-prepared me. I went into the slave-market.-a place which the traveler ought not to avoid, to spare his feelings. There was a table, on which stood two auctioneers: one with a hammer, the other to exhibit “the article,” and count the bids. The slaves for sale were some of them in groups below; and some in a long row behind the auctioneers. The sale of a man was just concluding when we entered the market. A woman, with two children, one at the breast, and another holding by her apron, composed the next lot. The restless, jocose zeal of the auctioneer who counted the bids was the most infernal sight I ever beheld. The woman was a mulatto; she was nearly dressed, with a clean apron, and a yellow head-handkerchief. The elder child clung to her. She hung her head low, lower, and still lower on her breast, yet turning her eyes incessantly form side to side, with an intensity of expectation which showed that she had not reached the last stage of despair. I should have thought that her agony of shame and dread would have silenced the tongue of every spectator: but it was not so. A lady chose this moment to turn to me and say, with a cheerful air of complacency:— “You know my theory,—that the one race must be subservient to the other. I do not car which; and if the blacks should ever have the upper hand, I should not mind standing on that table, and being sold with two of my children.” Who could help saying within himself. “Would you were! So that that mother were released!” Who could help seeing in vision the blacks driving the whites into the field, and preaching from the pulpits of Christian churches the doctrines now given out there, that God has respect of persons, that men are to hold each other as property, instead of regarding each other as brethren; and that the right interpretation of the golden rule by the slaveholder is, “Do unto your slaves as you would wish your master to do unto you, if you were a slave?” A little boy of eight or nine years old, apparently, was next put up alone. There was no bearing the child's look of helplessness and shame. It seemed like an outrange to be among the starers from whom he shrunk; and we went away before he was disposed of.
We next entered a number of fine houses where we were presented with flowers, and entertained with lively talk about the small affairs of gay society which to little minds are great. To me every laugh had lost its gaiety, every courtesy had lost its grace, all intercourse had lost its innocence. It was a relief to think of Grunké in his grave, escaped from the hell in which we were pent. If there be a scene which might stagger the faith of the spirit of Christianity itself,—if there be an experience which might overthrow its serenity, it is the transition from the slave-market to the abodes of the slave-masters, bright with sunshine, and gay with flowers, with courtesies and mirth.
If the moral gloom which oppresses the spirit of the stranger were felt by the residents, of course this condition of society would not endure another day. Much trouble is experienced, and there are many sighs over the system; but the anxiety is not to any great number what it is to the sisters of Grimké,—such a poisoner of life as to induce them to sacrifice property, home, friends, and repose, in order to obtain case of mind for themselves, and to do something towards destroying the curse by which their native region is blighted. Every day shows how many mansions there are in this hell; how variously the universally allowed evil visits minds of different strength and discernment. All suffer, from the frivolous and sophisticated child to the farseeing and disciplined saint. The difficulty is to have patience with the diversity, and to wait, as God waits, till the moral gloom strikes upon every heart, and causes every eye to turn for light where some already see it. At the same hour when the customary sins of the slave-market were being perpetrated, hundreds of the little people of Charleston were preparing for their childish pleasures,—their merry dancing schools, there juvenile fancy balls,—ordering their little slaves about, and allowing themselves to be fanned by black attendants while reposing in preparation for the fatigues of the evening: ministers of the gospel were agreeing to deprive persons of colour of all religious education: a distant Lynch mob was outraging the person of a free and innocent citizen: elegant ladies were administering hospitality, and exchanging gossip and sentiment: and Angelina Grunké was penning the letter which contains the following passages;—a private letter to a friend who was shortly to undergo the strengthening process of being mobbed:—
“I can hardly express to thee the deep and solemn interest with which I have viewed the violent proceedings of the last few weeks. Although I expected opposition, yet I was not prepared for it so soon—it took me by surprise, and I greatly feared Abolitionists would be driven back in the first onset, and thrown into confusion. So fearful was I, that though I clung with unflinching firmness to our principles, yet I was afraid to even opening one of thy papers, lest I should see some indications of compromise, some surrender, some palliation. Under these feelings. I was urged to read thy Appeal to the citizens of Boston. Judge, then, what were my feelings on finding that my fears were utterly groundless, and that thou stoodest firm in the midst of the storm, determined to suffer and to die, rather than yield one inch.
“Religious persecution always begins with mobs. It is always unprecedented in the age or country in which it commences, and therefore there are no laws by which Reformers can be punished: consequently, a lawless band of unprincipled men determine to take the matter into their own hands, and act out in mobs what they know are the principles of a large majority of these who are too high in Church and State to condescend to mingle with them, though they secretly approve and rejoice over their violent measures. The first Christian martyr was stoned by a lawless mob; and if we look at the rise of various sects. Methodists, Friends, &c., we shall find that mobs began the persecution against them, and that it was not until after the people had spoken out their wishes that laws were framed to fine, imprison, or destroy them. Let us then be prepared for the enactment of laws, even in our free States, against Abolitionists. And how ardently has the prayer been breathed, that God would prepare us for all that he is preparing for us!
“My mind has been especially turned towards those who are standing in the forefront of the battle; and the prayer has gone up for their preservation—not the preservation of their lives, but the preservation of their minds in humility and patience, faith, hope, and charity. If persecution is the means which God has ordained for the accomplishment of this great ende,—Emancipation,—then, in dependence upon him for strength to bear it, I feel as if I could say, ‘Let it come;’ for it is my deep, solemn, deliberate conviction, that this is a cause worth dying for.
“At one time, I thought this system would be overthrown in blood, with the confused noise of the warrior; but a hope gleams across my mind, that our blood will be spilt, instead of the slave-holder'; our lives will be taken, and theirs spared. I say ‘a hope,’ for of all things I desire to be spared the anguish of seeing our beloved country desolated with the horrors of a servile war.”
The writer of this letter was born into the system, under the same circumstances with the ladies who repeatedly asked me if I did not find that the slaves were very happy. So widely different are the influences of the same circumstances upon different minds!
Our evening engagements were as strangely contrasted as those of the morning. We were at parties where we heard loud talk of justice and oppression,—appeals to the eternal principles of the one, when the tariff was the subject, and expressions of the most passionate detestation of the other which night, but for the presence of black faces in the rooms, lead a stranger to suppose that he was in the very sanctuary of human rights. We were at a young heiress's first ball, where every guest was presented with a bouquet on entering; where the young ladies waltzed, and the young gentlemen gave a loose to their spirits, and all who were present had kindly greetings for the stranger. Nothing could be gayer than the external aspect of these entertainments; but it is impossible for the stranger to avoid being struck with the anxiety which shows itself through it all. I think I never was in society in any of the southern cities without being asked what I would do if I had a legacy of slaves, or told, in vindictiveness or sorrow, that the prosperity of the North was obtained at the expense of the South. I was never in southern society without perceiving that its characteristic is a want of repose. It is restlessly gay, or restlessly sorrowful. It is angry, or exulting; it is hopeful, or apprehensive. It is never content; never in such a state of calm satisfaction as to forget itself. This peculiarity poisons the satisfaction of the stranger in the midst of the free and joyous hospitality to which he would otherwise surrender himself with inconsiderate delight. While every thing is done that can be conceived of to make you happy, there is a weight pulling at your heartstrings, because you see that other hearts are heavy; and the nobler the heavier. While the host's little child comes to you at first sight, and holds up her mouth for a kiss, and offers to tell you a story, and pours out all her mirth and all her generosity upon you, the child's father tells you that there is a dark prospect before these young creatures, and Heaven knows what lot is in store for them. Your vigilance is kept active by continual suggestions that society is composed of two classes which entertain a mortal dread of each other. If ever you forget this for an hour, it is recalled by the sight of a soldier at the corner of a street, of a decaying mansion or deserted estate, or of some anti-republican arrangement for social or domestic defence. You reproach yourself because you are anxious and cannot be deceived; and feel as if it were ingratitude to your entertainers not to think them the secure and happy people which, in alternation with their complaints of all the external world, they assure you they are.
Our evenings were diversified with attendance upon phrenological lectures, —which, however, soon ceases to be a variety, from the absolute sameness of all courses of lectures on that subject,—with readings at home, and with a visit to a scene which I was strongly urged not to omit,—the Saturday night's market, hold by the slaves.
I should have been sorry to miss this spectacle. The slaves enjoy the amusement and profit yielded by this market. They sit in rows, by lamp light, some with heaps of fruit and vegetables before them; or surrounded by articles of their own manufacture,—boxes, bedsteads, baskets, and other handiworks, very cheap, and of good workmanship. The bananas, pines, imported apples, and oranges, which are seen in threat abundance, arc usually the property of the master: while the manufactured articles, made at spare hours, are nominally the slave's own. Some are allowed to make use of their leisure in preparing for the market, on condition of bringing their masters six dollars each, per week, retaining whatever surplus they may gain. I could not learn the consequence of failing to bring in the six dollars per week. They enjoy the fun and bustle of the market, and look with complacency on any white customers who will attend it. Their activity and merriment at market were pointed out to me as an assurance of their satisfaction with their condition, their conviction that their present position is the one they were made for, and in which their true happiness is to be found.
At the very same moment, I was shown the ruins of the church of St, Philip, destroyed by fire, as they frowned in the roar of the lamp-light; and I was informed that the church had once before been on fire, but had been saved by the exertions of a slave, who “had his liberty given him for a reward.”
“A reward!” said I; “What! when the slaves arc convinced that their true happiness lies in slavery?”
The conversation had come to an awkward pass. A lady advanced to the rescue, saying that some few, too many, were haunted by a pernicious fancy, put into their heads by others, about liberty;—a mere fancy, which, however, made them like the idea of freedom.
“So the benefactor of the city was rewarded by being indulged, to his own hurt, in a pernicious fancy?”
“Why . . . yes.”
My impressions of Charleston may easily be gathered from what I have said. It seems to me a place of great activity, without much intellectual result: of great gaiety, without much case and pleasure, I am confident that, whatever might be the reason, the general mind was full of mystery and anxiety at the time of my visit; and that some hearts were glowing with ambitious hopes, and others sinking in fears, more or less clearly defined, of the political crisis which seems to be now at hand. These are the influences which are educating the youth of Charleston, more powerfully than all schools and colleges, and all books; inducing a reliance on physical rather than moral force, and strengthening attachment to feudal notions of honour, and of every kind of good,—notions which have no affinity with true republican morals. This prospects of the citizens are “dark every way;” as some declared: for the rising; generation must either ascend, through a severe discipline, and prodigious sacrifices, to a conformity with republican principles; or descend into a condition of solitary feudalism, neither sanctioned by the example nor cheered by the sympathy of the world; but, on the contrary, regarded with that compassion which is precisely the last species of regard which the feudal spirit is able to endure.
We left Charleston in company with Mr. Callioun and his family, The great Nullifior told me many and long stories of his early days. Not being aware of my strong impressions respecting his present views and purposes, he could have no idea of the intense interest with which I listened to his accounts of the first kindling of his burning mind. He was five years old, standing between his father's knees, when his first political emotions stirred within him, awakened by his parent's talk of the colony and of free times, just after the Revolution. If some good angel had at that, moment whispered the parent, inspiring him to direct that young ambition to the ultimate grandeur of meek service; to animate that high spirit to a moral conflict with all human wrongs, we might already have owed to a mind so energetic the redemption of the negro race from the affliction, and of the Republic from the disgrace of slavery, instead of mourning over tho dedication of such powers to the propagation and exasperation of the curse. I feared how it would be,—what part he would take in the present struggle between the two principles of greatness, physical force with territorial conquest, and moral power shown in self-conquest. I feared that Mr. Calhoun would organise and head the feudal party,—as he has done: but I never had any fears that that party would prevail. When we parted at Uranehvillo, he little knew,—he might have been offended if he had known,—with what affectionate solicitude those whom he left behind looked on into his perilous political path. I am glad we could not foresee how soon our fears would be justified. Mr. Calhonn is at present insisting that the pirate-colony of Texas shall be admitted into the honourable American Union; that a new impulse shall thereby be given to the slave-trade, and a new extension to slavery: and that his country shall thereby surrender her moral supremacy among the nations for a gross and antiquated feudal ambition. He vows, taking the whole Union to witness, that these things shall be. The words have publicly passed his pen and his lips, “Texas shall be annexed to the United States.” His best friends must hope that the whole world will say, “It shall not.”
Society in America, vol. ii., p. 183.
For an explanation of Nullification, and a short history of the struggle of the Nullifiers, see “Society in America,” vol. i., p 92–109.