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John Elliott Cairnes, The Slave Power (1862)

The Ruling Class and the State: An Anthology from the OLL Collection

[See the Table of Contents of this Anthology as well as the more comprehensive collection The OLL Reader]

John Elliott Cairnes, The Slave Power (1862)

[Created: January 11, 2018]

The image is James Gillray, "The British Atlas, or John Bull supporting the Peace Establishment" (1816). [See a higher resolution image and the illustrated essay on "James Gillray on War and Taxes during the War against Napoleon".

Source

John Elliott Cairnes, The Slave Power: Its Character, Career, and Probable Designs: Being an Attempt to explain the Real Issues involved in the American Conflict. Second Edition. (New York: Carleton, 1862).

  • Chap. III. “Internal Organization of Slave Societies, ” pp. 46-63.
  • Chap. V. “Internal Development of Slave Societies,” pp. 77-92.

Editor’s Intro

Key words: "the (particular) class for whose special behoof it (slavery) exists," the class who keep slaves, servile régime, the upper classes, the ascendant class, the mean whites (a class at once degraded and dangerous) (white trash, crackers), free peasants, the three classes: the slaves, the slave-holders, the idle and lawless rabble, the Slave Power, the privileged (one) thirtieth part, one party, despotism of the wealthy few, the paramount power in the Union, uncontrolled despotism, a compact oligarchy, organised barabrism, a degraded class, the present ruling class.

 

CHAPTER III. INTERNAL ORGANIZATION OF SLAVE COMMUNITIES.

The explanation offered in the last chapter of the success and failure of slavery in different portions of North America resolved itself into the proposition, that in certain cases the institution was found to be economically profitable while it proved unprofitable in others. From this position—the profitableness of slavery under given external conditions—the inference is generally made by those who advocate or look with indulgence on the system, that slavery must be regarded as conducive to at least the material well-being of countries in which these conditions exist; and these conditions being admittedly present in the Slave States of North America, it is concluded that the abolition of slavery in those states would necessarily be attended with a diminution of their wealth, and by consequence, owing to the mode in which the interests of all nations are identified through commerce, with a corresponding injury to the material interests of the rest of the world. In this manner it is attempted to enlist the selfish feelings of mankind in favour of the institution ; and it is not impossible that many persons, who would be disposed to condemn it upon moral grounds, are thus led to connive at its existence. It will therefore be desirable, before proceeding farther with the investigation of our subject, to ascertain precisely the extent of the admission in favour of the system which is involved in the foregoing explanation of its success.

And, in the first place, it must be remarked that the profitableness which has been attributed to slavery is profitableness estimated exclusively from the point of view of the proprietor of slaves. Profitableness in this sense is all that is necessary to account for the introduction and maintenance of the system (which was the problem with which alone we were concerned), since it was with the proprietors that the decision rested. But those who are acquainted with the elementary principles which govern the distribution of wealth, know that the profits of capitalists may be increased by the same process by which the gross revenue of a country is diminished, and that therefore the community as a whole may be impoverished through the very same means by which a portion of its number is enriched. The economic success of slavery, therefore, is perfectly consistent with the supposition that it is prejudicial to the material wellbeing of the country where it is established. The argument, in short, comes to this : the interests of slave-masters—or rather that which slave-masters believe to be their interests—are no more identical with the interests of the general population in slave countries in the matter of wealth, than in that of morals or politics. That which benefits, or seems to benefit, the one in any of these departments, may injure the other. It follows, therefore, that the economic advantages possessed by slavery, which were the inducement to its original establishment and which cause it still to be upheld, are perfectly compatible with its being an obstacle to the industrial development of the country, and at variance with the best interests, material as well as moral, of its inhabitants.

Further, the profitableness which has been attributed to slavery does not even imply that the system is conducive to the interests (except in the narrowest sense of the word) of the class for whose especial behoof it exists. Individuals and classes may always be assumed to follow their own interests according to their .lights and tastes ; but that which their lights and tastes point out as their interest will vary with the degree of their intelligence and the character of their civilization. When the intelligence of a class is limited and its civilization low, the view it will take of its interests will be correspondingly narrow and sordid. Extravagant and undue importance will be attached to the mere animal pleasures. A small gain obtained by coarse and obvious methods will be preferred to a great one which requires a recourse to more refined expedients; and the future wrell-being of the race will be regarded as of less importance than the aggrandisement of the existing generation.

But our admissions in favour of slavery require still further qualification. The establishment of slavery in the Southern States was accounted for by its superiority in an economic point of view over free labour, in the form in which free labour existed in America at the time when that continent was settled. Now, the superiority of slavery over free labour to which its establishment was originally owing, is by no means to be assumed as still existing in virtue of the fact that slavery is still maintained. Of two systems one may at a given period be more profitable than the other, and may on this account be established, but may afterwards cease to be so, and yet may nevertheless continue to be upheld, either from habit, or from unwillingness to adopt new methods, or from congeniality with tastes which have been formed under its influence. It is a difficult and slow process under all circumstances to alter the industrial system of a country; but the difficulty of exchanging one form of free industry for another is absolutely inappreciable when compared with that which we encounter when we attempt to substitute free for servile institutions. It is therefore quite possible—how far the case is actually so I shall afterwards examine—that the persistent maintenance of the system at the present day may be due less to its economical advantages than to the habits and tastes it may have engendered, and to the enormous difficulty of getting rid of it. Since the settlement of the Southern States a vast change has taken place in the American continent. Free labour, wrhich was then scarce and costly, has now in many of the large towns become superabundant; and it is quite possible that, even with external conditions so favourable to slavery as the southern half of North America undoubtedly presents, free labour would now, on a fair trial, be found more than a match for its antagonist. Such a trial, however, is not possible under the present régime of the South. Slavery is in possession of the field, and enjoys all the advantages which possession in such a contest confers.

The concession then in favour of slavery, involved in the explanation given of its definitive establishment in certain portions of North America, amounts to this, that under certain conditions of soil and climate, cultivation oy slaves may for a time yield a larger net revenue than cultivation oy certain forms of free labour. This is all that needs to be assumed to account for the original establishment of slavery. But the maintenance of the institution at the present day does not imply even this quantum of advantage in its favour; since, owing to the immense difficulty of getting rid of it when once established on an extensive scale, the reasons for its continuance (regarding the question from the point of view of the slaveholders) may, where it has once obtained a firm footing, prevail over those for its abolition, even though it be far inferior as a productive instrument to free-labour. The most, therefore, that can be inferred from the existence of the system at the present day is that it is self-supporting.

Having now cleared the ground from the several false inferences with which the economic success of slavery, such as it is, is apt to be surrounded, I proceed to trace the consequences, economic, social, and political, which flow from the institution.

The comparative anatomist, by reasoning on those fixed relations between the different parts of the animal frame which his science reveals to him, is able from a fragment of a tooth or bone to determine the form, dimensions, and habits of the creature to which it belonged; and with no less accuracy, it seems to me, may a political economist, by reasoning on the economic character of slavery and its peculiar connexion with the soil, deduce its leading social and political attributes, and almost construct, by way of a priori argument, the entire system of the society of which it forms the foundation. A brief consideration of the economic principles on which, as we have seen in a former chapter, slavery supports itself, will enable us to illustrate this remark.

It was then seen that slave labour is, from the nature of the case, unskilled labour; and it is evident that this circumstance at once excludes it from the field of manufacturing and mechanical industry. Where a workman is kept in compulsory ignorance, and is, at the same time, without motive for exerting hismental faculties, it is quite impossible that he should take part with efficiency in the difficult and delicate operations wThich most manufacturing and mechanical processes involve. The care and dexterity which the management of machinery requires is not to be obtained from him, and he would often do more damage in an hour than the produce of his labour for a year would cover. Slavery, therefore, at least in its modern form, has never been, and can never.be, employed with success in manufacturing industry. And no less plain is it that it is unsuited to the functions of commerce; for the soul of commerce is the spirit of enterprise, and this is ever found wanting in' communities where slavery exists: their prevailing characteristics are subjection to routine and contempt for money-making pursuits. Moreover, the occupations of commerce are absolutely prohibitive of the employment of servile labour. A mercantile marine composed of slaves is a form of industry which the wrorld has not yet seen. Mutinies in mid-ocean and desertions the moment the vessel touched at foreign ports would quickly reduce the force to a cipher.

Slavery, therefore, excluded by these causes from the field of manufactures and commerce, finds its natural career in agriculture; and, from what has been already established respecting the peculiar qualities of slave labour, we may easily divine the form which agricultural industry will assume under a servile régime. The single merit of slave labour as an industrial instrument consists, as we have seen, in its capacity for organization—its susceptibility, that is to say, of being adjusted with precision to the kind of work to be done, and of being directed on a comprehensive plan towards some distinctly conceived end. Now to give scope to this quality, the scale on which industry is carried on must be extensive, and, to carry on industry on an extensive scale, large capitals are required. Large capitalists will therefore have, in slave communities, a special and peculiar advantage over small capitalists beyond that which they enjoy in countries where labour is free. But there is another circumstance which renders a considerable capital still more an indispensable condition to the successful conduct of industrial operations in slave countries. A capitalist who employs free labour needs for the support of his labour force a sum sufficient to cover the amount of their wages during the interval which elapses from the commencement of their operations until the sale of the produce which results from them. But the capitalist employing slave labour requires not merely this sum—represented in his case by the food, clothing, and shelter provided for his slaves during the corresponding period—but, in addition to this, a sum sufficient to purchase the fee-simple of his entire slave force. For the conduct of a given business, therefore, it is obvious that the employer of slave labour will require a much larger capital than the employer of free labour. The capital of the one will represent merely the current outlay; while the capital of the other will represent, in addition to this, the future capabilities of the productive instrument. The one will represent the interest, the other the principal and interest, of the labour employed.[1] Owing to these causes large capitals are, relatively to small, more profitable, and are, at the same time, absolutely more required in countries of slave, than in countries of free labour. It happens, however, that capital is in slave countries a particularly scarce commodity, owing partly to the exclusion from such countries of many modes of creating it—manufactures and commerce for example—which are open to free communities, and partly to what is also a consequence of the institution— the unthrifty habits of the upper classes. We arrive therefore at this singular conclusion, that, while large capitals in countries of slave labor enjoy peculiar advantages, and while the aggregate capital needed in them for the conduct of a given amount of industry is greater than in countries where labour is free, capital nevertheless in such countries is exceptionally scarce. From this state of things result two phenomena which may be regarded as typical of industry carried on by slaves— the magnitude of the plantations and the indebtedness of the planters. Wherever negro slavery has prevailed in modern times, these two phenomena will be found to exist. They form the burthen of most of what has been written on our West Indian Islands while under the regime of slavery; and they are not less prominently the characteristic features of the industrial system of the Southern States. "Our wealthie* planters," says Mr. Clay, "are buying out their poorer neigh bours, extending their plantations, and adding to their slave force. The wealthy few, who are able to live on smaller profits, and to give their blasted fields some rest, are thus pushing off the many who are merely independent." At the same time these wealthier planters are, it is well known, very generally in debt, the forthcoming crops being for the most part mortgaged to Northern capitalists, who make the needful advances, and who thus become the instruments by which a considerable proportion of the slave labour of the South is maintained. The tendency of things, therefore, in slave countries is to a very unequal distribution of wealth. The large capitalists, having a steady advantage over their smaller competitors, engross, with the progress of time, a larger and larger proportion of the aggregate wealth of the country, and gradually acquire the control of its collective industry. Meantime, amongst the ascendant class a condition of general indebtedness prevails.

But we may carry our deductions from the economic character of slavery somewhat further. It has been seen that slave cultivation can only maintain itself where the soil is rich, while it produces a steady deterioration of the soils on which it is employed. This being so, it is evident that in countries of average fertility but a small portion of the whole area will be available for this mode of cultivation, and that this portion is ever becoming smaller, since, as the process of deterioration proceeds, more soils are constantly reaching that condition in which servile labour ceases to be profitable. What, then, is to become of the remainder—that large portion of the country which is either naturally too poor for cultivation by slaves, or which has been made so by its continued employment? It will be thought, perhaps, that this may be worked by free labour, and that by a judicious combination of both forms of industry the whole surface of the country may be brought to the highest point of productiveness. But this is a moral impossibility: it is precluded by what, we shall find, is a cardinal feature in the structure of slave societies—their exclusiveness. In free countries industry is the path to independence, to wealth, to social distinction, and is therefore held in honour; in slave countries it is the vocation of the slave, and becomes therefore a badge of degradation. The free labourer, consequently, who respects his calling and desires to be respected, instinctively shuns a country where industry is discredited, where he cannot engage in those pursuits by which wrealth and independence are to be gained without placing himself on a level with the lowest of mankind. Free and slave labour are, therefore, incapable of being blended together in the same system. Where slavery exists it excludes all other forms of industrial life. "The traveller," says De Tocqueville, "who floats down the current of the Ohio, may be said to sail between liberty and servitude. Upon the left bank of the stream the population is sparse; from time to time one descries a troop of slaves loitering' in the half-desert fields; the primaeval forest recurs at every turn; society seems to be asleep, man to be idle, and nature alone offers a scene of activity and of life. From the right bank, on the contrary, a confused hum is heard which proclaims the presence of industry; the fields are covered with abundant harvests; the elegance of the dwellings announces the taste and activity of the labourer; and man appears to be in the enjoyment of that wealth and contentment which is the reward of labour. Upon the left bank of the Ohio labour is confounded with the idea of slavery, upon the right bank it is identified with that of prosperity and improvement; on the one side it is degraded, on the other it is honoured; on the former territory no white labourers can be found, for they would be afraid of assimilating themselves to the negroes; on the latter no one is idle, for the white population extends its activity and its intelligence to every kind of employment. Thus the men whose task it is to cultivate the rich soil of Kentucky are ignorant and lukewarm; whilst those who are enlightened either do nothing, or pass over into the State of Ohio, where they may work without dishonour."[2]

Agriculture, therefore, when carried on by slaves, being by a sure law restricted to the most fertile portions of the land, and no other form of systematic industry being possible where slavery is established, it happens that there are in all slave countries vast districts, becoming, under the deteriorating effects of slave industry, constantly larger, which are wholly surrendered to nature, and remain for ever as wilderness. This is a characteristic feature in the political economy of the Slave States of the South, and is attended with social consequences of the most important kind. For the tracts thus left, or made, desolate, become in time the resort of a numerous horde of people, who, too poor to keep slaves and too proud to work, prefer a vagrant and precarious life spent in the desert to engaging in occupations which would associate them with the slaves whom they despise. In the Southern States no less than five millions of human beings are nowT said to exist in this manner in a condition little removed from savage life, eking out a wretched subsistence by hunting, by fishing, by hiring themselves out for occasional jobs, by plunder. Combining the restlessness and contempt for regular industry peculiar to the savage with the vices of the prolétaire of civilized communities, these people make up a class at once degraded and dangerous, and constantly reinforced as they are by all that is idle, worthless, and lawless among the population of the neighbouring States, form an inexhaustible preserve of ruffianism, ready at hand for all the worst purposes of Southern ambition. The planters complain of these people for their idleness, for corrupting their slaves, for their thievish propensities; but they cannot dispense with them; for, in truth, they perform an indispensable function in the economy of slave societies, of which they are at once the victims and the principal supports. It is from their ranks that those filibustering expeditions are recruited which have been found so effective an instrument in extending the domain of the Slave Power; they furnish the Border Ruffians who in the colonization struggle with the Northern States contend with Freesoilers on the Territories; and it is to their antipathy to the negroes that the planters securely trust for repressing every attempt at servile insurrection. Such are the "mean whites " or "white trash " of the Southern States. They comprise several local subdivisions, the " crackers," the " sandhillers," the " clay-eaters," and many more. The class is not peculiar to any one locality, but is the invariable outgrowth of negro slavery wherever it has raised its head in modern times. It may be seen, in the new State of Texas[3] as well as in the old settled districts of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia; in the West India Islands[4] no less than on the Continent. In the States of the Confederacy it comprises, as I have said, five millions of human beings—about seven-tenths of the whole white population.

The industry of the Slave States, we have seen, is exclusively agricultural; and the mode of agriculture pursued in them has been represented as partial, perfunctory, and exhaustive. It must, however, be admitted that, to a certain extent, this description is applicable to the industrial condition of all new countries, and will find illustrations in the wrestern regions of the Free States; and it may therefore occur to the reader that the economical conditions which I have described are rather the consequence of the recent settlement of the societies where they prevail than specific results of the system of slavery. But it is easy to show that this view of the case is fallacious, and proceeds from confounding what is essential in slave-industry with an accidental and temporary feature in the industrial career of free communities. The settlers in new countries, whether they be slave-holders or free peasants, naturally fix in the first instance on the richest and most conveniently situated Boils, and find it more profitable to cultivate these lightly, availing themselves to the utmost of the resources which nature offers, than to force cultivation on inferior soils after the manner of high farming in old countries. So far the cases are similar. But here lies the difference. The labour of free peasants, though of course more productive on rich than on inferior soils, is not necessarily confined to the former; whereas this is the case with the labour of slaves. According, therefore, as free peasants multiply, after the best soils have been appropriated, the second best are taken into cultivation; and as they multiply still more, cultivation becomes still more general, until ultimately all the cultivatable portions of the country are brought within the domain of industry. But as slaves multiply, their masters cannot have recourse to inferior soils: they must find for them new soils: the mass of the country, therefore, remains uncultivated, and the population increases only by dispersion. Again, although the mode of cultivation pursued by free peasants in new lands is generally far from what would be approved of by the scientific farmers of old countries, still it does not exhaust the soil in the same manner as cultivation carried on by slaves. "I hold myself justified/' says Mr. Olmsted, "in asserting that the natural elements of wealth in the soil of Texas will have been more exhausted in ten years, and with them the rewards offered by Providence to labour will have been more lessened, than without slavery would have been the case in two hundred." . . . "After two hundred years' occupation of similar soils by a free-labouring community, I have seen no such evidences of waste as in Texas I have after ten years of slavery."[5] ... "Waste of soil and injudicious application of labour are common in the agriculture of the North; . . . but nowhere is the land with what is attached to it now less promising and suitable for the residence of a refined and civilized people than it was before the operations, which have been attended with the alleged waste, were commenced." The same is not true of Virginia or the Carolinas, or of any other district where slavery has predominated for an historic period. "The land in these cases is positively less capable of sustaining a dense civilized community than if no labour at all had been expended upon it."[6] The superficial and careless mode of agriculture pursued by free peasants in new countries is, in short, accidental and temporary, the result of the exceptional circumstances m which they are placed, and gives place to a better system as population increases and inferior soils are brought under the plough; but the superficiality and exhaustiveness of agriculture carried on by slaves are essential and unalterable qualities, rendering all cultivation impossible but that which is carried on upon the richest soils, and irremovable by the growth of population, since they are an effectual bar to this.

My position is, that in. slave communities agriculture is substantially[7] the sole occupation, while this single pursuit is prematurely arrested in its development, never reaching those soils of secondary quality which, under a system of free industry, would, with the growth of society, be brought under cultivation; and of this statement the industrial history of the Free and Slave States forms one continued illustration. The state of Virginia, for example, is the longest settled state in the Union, and for general productive purposes, one of the most richly endowred. It possesses a fertile soil, a genial climate; it is rich in mineral productions, in iron, in copper, in coal— the coal fields of Virginia being amongst the most extensive in the world, and the coal of superior quality; it is approached by one of the noblest bays; it is watered by numerous rivers, some of them navigable for considerable distances, and most of them capable of affording abundance of water power for manufacturing purposes.[8] With such advantages, Virginia, a region as large as England, could not fail, in a career of two hundred and fifty years, under a system of free industry, to become a state of great wealth, population, and power. Her mineral and manufacturing, as well as her agricultural, resources would be brought into requisition; her population would increase with rapidity, and become concentrated in large towns; her agriculture would be extended over the whole surface of the country. But what is the result of the experiment under a slave régime? After a national life of two hundred and fifty years the whole free population is still under one million souls.[9] Eight-tenths of her industry are devoted to agriculture; and the progress which has been made m this, the principal pursuit, may be estimated by the significant fact, that the average price per acre of cultivated land, in Virginia is no more than eight dollars. Contrast this with the progress made in fifty years by the free state of Ohio—a state smaller in area than Virginia, and inferior in variety of resources. Ohio was admitted as a state into the Union in 1802, and in 1850 its population numbered nearly two millions.[10] Like Virginia it is chiefly agricultural, though not from the same causes, Ohio being from its resources and internal position adapted in a peculiar manner to agriculture, while the resources of Virginia would fit it equally for manufactures or commerce; but, while the average price of cultivated land per acre in Virginia, after an agricultural career of two hundred and fifty years, is eight dollars, the average price in Ohio, after a career of fifty years, is twenty dollars. The contrast will of course only become more striking, if, instead of a free state of fifty years' growth, we take one more nearly on a par in the duration of its career with the slave state with which it is compared. New Jersey, for example, was founded about the same time as Virginia. Its climate, Mr. Olmsted tells us, differs imperceptibly from that of Virginia, owing to its vicinity to the ocean, while its soil is decidedly less fertile; but such progress has been made in bringing that soil under cultivation that, against eight dollars per acre—the average price of land in Virginia—there is to be set in New Jersey an average of forty-four dollars.[11] Let us take another example. New York and Massachusetts are also, in relation to Virginia, contemporary states. In agricultural resources they are greatly its inferiors, the soil of Massachusetts in particular being sterile and its climate harsh. What then has been the relative progress made by these three states in bringing their respective soils under cultivation? In Virginia, 26J per cent, of her whole area had, in 1852, been brought under tillage; in New York, 41 per cent.; and in Massachusetts, 42| per cent. But these facts do not convey their full lesson till we add that, in bringing 26£ per cent, of her soil under cultivation, Virginia employed eight-tenths of her industrial population, while New York and Massachusetts, in bringing under cultivation much larger proportions of their areas, empkyed but six and four-tenths of their respective populations.[12] It thus appears that Virginia, with great agricultural resources and a population almost wholly devoted to agriculture, has been far outstripped in her own peculiar branch of industry by states of inferior resources, and whose industry has been largely or principally devoted to other pursuits. The same comparison might be continued throughout the other Free and Slave states wTith analogous results. The general truth is, that in the Free States, wdiere external circumstances are favourable, industry is distributed over many occupations—manufactures,mining, commerce, agriculture; while in the Slave States, however various be the resources of the country, it is substantially confined to one—agriculture; and in this one is prematurely arrested, never reaching that stage of development which in countries wdiere labour is free is early attained.

The reader is now in a position to understand the kind of economic success which slavery has achieved. It consists in the rapid extraction from the soil of a country of the most easily obtained portion of its wealth by a process which exhausts the soil, and consigns to waste all the other resources of the country where it is practised. To state the case with more particularity—by proscribing manufactures and commerce, and confining agriculture within narrow bounds, by rendering impossible the rise of a free peasantry, by checking the growth of population—in a word, by blasting every germ from which national well-being and general civilization may spring—at this cost, with the further condition of encroaching, through a reckless system of culture, on the stores designed by Providence for future generations, slavery may undoubtedly for a time be made conducive to the pecuniary gain of the class who keep slaves. Such is the net result of advantage which slavery, as an economic system, is capable of yielding. To the full credit of all that is involved in this admission the institution is fairly entitled.

The constitution of a slave society, it has been seen, is sufficiently simple : it resolves itself into three classes, broadly distinguished from each other, and connected by no common interest—the slaves on whom devolves all the regular industry, the slave-holders who reap all its fruits, and an idle and lawless rabble who live dispersed over vast plains in a condition little removed from absolute barbarism. These form the constituent elements of the society of which the Slave Power is the political representative. What the nature of that powrer is, now that we have ascertained the elements out of which it springs, we can have little difficulty in determining. When the whole wealth of a country is monopolized by a thirtieth part of its population, while the remainder are by physical or moral causes consigned to compulsory poverty and ignorance; when the persons composing the privileged thirtieth part are all engaged in pursuits of the same kind, subject to the influence of the same moral ideas, and identified with the maintenance of the same species of property—in a society so constituted political power will of necessity reside with those in whom centre the elements of such power—wealth, knowledge, and intelligence—the small minority for whose exclusive benefit the system exists. The polity of such a society must thus, in essence, be an oligarchy, whatever be the particular mould in which it is cast. Nor is this all. A society so organized tends to develop with a peculiar intensity the distinctive vices of an oligarchy. In a country of free labour, whatever be the form of government to which it is subject, the pursuits of industry are various. Various interests, therefore, take root, and parties grow up which, regarding national questions from various points of view, become centres of opposition, whether against the undue pretensions of any one of their number, or against those of a single ruler. It is not so in the Slave States. That variety of interests which springs from the individual impulses of a free population does not here exist. The elements of a political opposition are wranting. There is but one party,[13] but one set of men who are capable of acting together in political concert. The rest is an undisciplined rabble. From this state of things the only possible result is that which we find—a despotism, in the last degree unscrupulous and impatient of control, wielded by the wealthy few. Now it is this power which for half a century has exercised paramount sway in the councils of the Union. It is the men educated in the ideas of this system who have filled the highest offices of State, who have been the representatives of their country to European Powers, and who, by their position and the influence they have commanded, have given the tone to the public morality of the nation. The deterioration of the institutions and of the character of the people of the United States is now very commonly taken for granted in this country. The fact may be so; so far as the South is concerned I believe, and shall endeavour to prove, that it unquestionably is so. But it is very important that we should understand to what cause this deterioration is due. There are writers who would have us believe that it is but the natural result of democratic institutions working through the Federal system; and for this view a plausible case may be easily made out. Democratic institutions have admittedly exercised a powerful influence in forming the American character and in determining the present condition of the United States. It is only necessary, therefore, to bring this point strongly into view in close connexion with all that is most objectionable in the public morals, and all that is most discreditable in the recent history, of the Union, keeping carefully out of sight the existence in the political system of institutions the reverse of democratic and avoiding all reference to the cardinal fact, that it is these and not the democratic institutions of the North which, almost since its establishment, have been the paramount power in the Union,—to leave the impression that everything that has been made matter of reproach in transatlantic politics has been due to democracy and to democracy alone. According to this method of theorising, the abstraction of Florida, the annexation of Texas, the filibustering expeditions of Lopez and Walker, the attempts upon Cuba, have no connexion with the aggressive ambition of the Slave Power: they are only proofs of the rapacious spirit of democracy armed wkh the strength of a powerful federation. It is, indeed, quite astounding to observe the boldness with which this argument is sometimes handled. One would have thought that an advocate of the Southern cause would at least have shown some hesitancy in alluding to an attack made by a Southern bully, on the floor of the Senate-house, upon one of the most accomplished statesmen of the North. That attack was in all circumstances plainly branded witli the marks of its origin. It was committed by a slaveholder, acting as the champion of slaveholders, in revenge for an anti-slavery speech; it was characterized by that mingled treachery, cowardice, and brutality which are only to be found in societies reared in/the presence of slavery; it was adopted and applauded by the whole people of the South, recognized by testimonials, and rewarded by gifts: yet this act is deliberately put forward as an example of the "irreverence for justice" which is produced by democratic institutions, and is employed to prepossess our minds in favour, of the Southern cause ![14] The present writer is far from being an admirer of democracy as it exists in the Northern States; but, whatever be the merits or demerits of that form of government, it is desirable that it should be judged by its own fruits, and not by the fruits of a system which is its opposite —a system which, in place of conferring political power on the majority of the people, gives it, free from all control, to a small minority whose interests are not only not identical with those of their fellow-citizens, but directly opposed to theirs. Democracy, beyond all doubt, has been a powerful influence in moulding the character of the Americans in the Northern States; it would be absurd to deny this; but it would be no less absurd, and would be still more flagrantly in defiance of the most conspicuous facts of the case, to deny that that character has also been profoundly modified by the influence of Southern institutions, acting through the Federal government, in the persons of Southern men—institutions which I repeat are the reverse of democratic. It is the Slave Power, and not the democracy of the North, which for half a century has been dominant in the Union. It is this Power which has directed its public policy; which has guided its intercourse with foreign nations, conducted its diplomacy, regulated its internal legislation, and which, by working on its hopes and fears through the unscrupulous use of an enormous patronage, has exercised an unbounded sway over the minds of the whole people. Whatever other agencies may have contributed to shape the course of American politics, this at least has been a leading one ; and whatever be the political character of the citizens, for that character this system must be held in a principal degree responsible.

To sum up in a few words the general results of the foregoing discussion :—the Slave Power—that power which has long held the helm of government in the Union—is, under the forms of a democracy, an uncontrolled despotism, wielded by a compact oligarchy. Supported by the labour of four millions of slaves, it rules a population of five millions of whites—a population ignorant, averse to systematic industry, and prone to irregular adventure. A system of society more formidable for evil, more menacing to the best interests of the human race, it is difficult to conceive.

Endnotes

[1.] The operation of the economic principle which I have endeavoured to explain is well illustrated in the following case put by Mr. Olmsted —

"Let us suppose two recent immigrants, one in Texas, the other in the young free State of Iowa, to have both, at the same time, a considerable sum of money— say five thousand dollars—at disposal. Land has been previously purchased, a hasty dwelling of logs constructed, and ample crops for sustenance harvested. Each has found communication with his market interrupted during a portion of the year by floods; each needs an ampler and better house; each desires to engage a larger part of his land in profitable production; each needs some agricultural machinery or implements; in the neighbourhood of each, a church, a school, a grist-mill, and a branch railroad are proposed. Each may be supposed to have previously obtained the necessary materials for his c^sired constructions; and to need immediately the services of a carpenter. The Texan, unable to hire one in the neighbourhood, orders his agent in Houston or New Orleans to buy him one: when he arrives, he has cost not less than two of the five thousand dollars. The Iowan, in the same predicament, writes to a friend in the East or advertises in the newspapers, that he is ready to pay better wages than carpenters can get in the older settlements; and a young man, whose only capital is in his hands and his wits, glad to come where there is a glut of food and a dearth of labour, soon presents himself. To construct a causeway and a bridge, and to clear, fence, and break up the land he desires to bring into cultivation, the Texan will need three more slaves—and he gets them as before, thereby investing all his money. The Iowan has only to let his demand be known, or, at most, to advance a small sum to the public conveyances, and all the labourers he requires—independent small capitalists of labour—gladly bring their only commodity to him and offer it as a loan, on his promise to pay a better interest, or wages, for it than Eastern capitalists are willing to do. The Iowan next sends for the implements and machinery which will enable him to make the best use of the labour, he has engaged. The Texan tries to get on another year without them, or employs such rude substitutes as his stupid, uninstructed, and uninterested slaves can readily make in his ill-furnished plantation workshop. The Iowan is able to contribute liberally to aid in the construction of the church, the school-house, the mill, and the railroad. His labourers, appreciating the value of the reputation they may acquire for honesty, good judgment, skill, and industry, do not need constant superintendence, and he is able to call on his neighbours and advise, encourage, and stimulate them. Thus the church, the school, and the railroad are soon in operation, and with them is brought rapidly into play other social machinery, which makes much luxury common and cheap to all. The Texan, if solicited to assist in similar enterprises, answers truly, that cotton is yet too low to permit him to invest money where it does not promise to be immediately and directly productive. The Iowan may still have one or two thousand dollars, to be lent to merchants, mechanics, or manufacturers, who are disposed to establish themselves near him. With the aid of this capital, not only various minor conveniences are brought into the neighbourhood, but useful information, scientific, agricultural, and political; and commodities, the use of which is educative of taste and the finer capacities of our nature, are attractively presented to the people. The Texan mainly does without these things. He confines the imports of his plantation almost entirely to slaves, corn, bacon, salt, sugar, molasses, tobacco, clothing, medicine, hoes, and plough-iron. Even if he had the same capital to spare, he would live in far less comfort than the Iowan, because of the want of local shops and efficient systems of public conveyance which cheapen the essentials of comfort for the latter."—Texas, pp. viil-x.

[2.] Democracy in America, vol. ii. pp. 222, 223. "The negroes," says Mr. Olmsted, "are a degraded people—degraded not merely by position, but actually immoral, low-lived; without healthy ambition; but little influenced by high moral considerations; and, in regard to labour, not at all affected by regard for duty. This is universally recognized, and debasing fear, not cheering hope, is in general allowed to be their only stimulant to exerticm. . . . Now, let the white labourer come here from the North or from Europe—his nature demands a social life—shall he associate with the poor, slavish, degraded, low-lived, despised, unambitious negro, with whom labour and punishment are almost synonymous? or shall he be the friend and companion of the white man, in whose mind labour is habitually associated with no ideas of duty, responsibility, comfort, luxury, cultivation, or elevation and expansion either of mind or estate, as it is where the ordinary labourer is a free man—free to use his labour as a means of obtaining all these and all else that is to be respected, honoured, or envied in the world? Associating with either or both, is it not inevitable that he will be rapidly demoralized—that he will soon learn to hate labour, give as little of it for his hire as he can, become base, cowardly, faithless—' worse than a nigger?' . . When we reflect how little the great body of our workingmen are consciously much affected by moral considerations in their movements, one is tempted to suspect that the Almighty has endowed the great transatlantic migration with a new instinct, by which it is unconsciously repelled from the demoralizing and debilitating Influence of slavery, as migrating birds have sometimes been thought to be from pestilential regions. I know not else how to account for the remarkable indisposition to be sent to Virginia* which I have seen manifested by poor Irishmen and G-ermans, who could have known. I think, no more of the evils of slavery to the whites in the Slave States, than the slaves themselves know of the effect of conscription in France, and who certainly could have been governed by no considerations of self-respect."

[3.] Olmsted's Texas, p. xvii.; note.

[4.] Merivale's Colonization and the Colonies, p. 83; note, new ed.

[5.] Olmsted's Texas, p. xiv.

[6.] Ibid. p. xviil; note.

[7.] I do not mean to assert that there is no mechanical or manufacturing industry carried on in the Slave States. In some of the principal towns, no doubt, there is, though to a limited extent, and here it is chiefly the result of Northern enterprise. What I intend to say is, that the amount of industry of this kind is so small, that in speaking of the resources of national wealth, it need not be taken account of.

[8.] Olmsted's Seaboard Slave States, pp. 165, 166.

[9.] The actual numbers were in 1850:—

"Whites .... 894,800
Free coloured .... 54,333
Total free . . . 949,133

[10.] The actual numbers were, 1,980,329.

[11.] Olmsted's Seaboard Slave States, p. 1*71. In connexion with this question Mr. Weston (Progress of Slavery) gives the following striking statistics, p. 17 :—"The following were the prices per acre in the states and counties named, and the percentage of slaves in Kentucky and the counties named:—

Value per acre. Per ct. of slaves.

Ohio $19-99
Indiana 10-66
Illinois 7-99
Kentucky 9-03 22
Ohio counties adjoining Kentucky . . . 32-34
Kentucky counties adjoining Ohio ... 18-27 10
Indiana counties adjoining Kentucky . . 11-34
Kentucky counties adjoining Indiana . . 10-44 21
Illinois counties adjacent to Kentucky . 4-65
Kentucky counties adjacent to Illinois . 4-54 18"

[12.] These facts are given in an "Address to the Farmers of Virginia," by the Virginia State Agricultural Society, which, after having been twice read, approved, and adopted, was finally rejected on the ground that "there were admissions in it which would feed the fanaticism of the abolitionists;" but "no one argued against it on the ground of the falsity or inaccuracy of its returns." It is quoted at length by Olmsted, Seaboard Slave States, pp. 167-170.

[13.] There is one exception to this statement. Between the breeding and working states a difference of interest has been developed which has resulted in the formation of two parties within the Slave States. But (as will hereafter be shown) this difference of interest has never been sufficient to produce any serious discordance among the politicians of the South. The sympathies which bind the breeding and working states together are far stronger than any interests which separate them; and in the main they have always acted as a single party.

[14.] Spence's American Union, pp. 65-6, 14-5. Mr. Spence states the act, omitting to mention the occasion, or whether the actors were Northern or Southern men, but in the same paragraph, having alluded to the case of Mr. Sickles, he adds that the man "who committed a deliberate and relentless murder in open day . . . . is now a Brigadier-General in the Northern army." Is the mention of the criminal's origin in one case, and its suppression in the other, an accident?

In a later portion of the volume a still more striking instance occurs of Mr. Spence's candour. "A French writer, Raymond, comments upon the singular fact that whilst between England and France but one serious quarrel has occurred since 1815, there have arisen during the same period twelve or thirteen most serious difficulties between the United States and ourselves ... We have had minor wars with China, conducted on the principle of throwing open to the world every advantage obtained by ourselves. On one occasion we invited the co-operation of the American Government, but in vain, and every opportunity was seized to thwart our policy. Even the Chinese know they may expect to see the flag of any other power in union with our own, but never that of America. There was, indeed, a moment when our men were falling under a murderous fire, that for once an American %was heard to declare that 'blood was thicker than water.' It would ill become us to forget the noble conduct of Commodore Tatnall on that occasion. He was a Southerner, and is now a 'traitor and rebel' " (pp. 294-296). Let the reader note the art with which the facts are here manipulated. We are asked to refuse our sympathies to the North, because, since 1815 we have had frequent difficulties with the United States (which the North now represents)—the circumstances that during almost the whole of this period the Government of the United States was in the hands of Southern statesmen being suppressed as of no importance in the case. On the other hand a single instance in which a Southerner has performed an act of a friendly nature towards Great Britain is brought prominently forward as a ground for giving our sympathies to the South. It is evident that the contrast thus instituted between the friendly conduct of Commodore Tatnall—a Southerner—and the hostile spirit which had just, been commented on as manifested by the Government of the Union, can, taken in connexion with the general tenor of the argument, have no other effect than to leave readers unacquainted with the facts (a rather numerous class unfortunately in this country) under the impression that, as the friendly demonstration was the act of a Southerner, so the hostile manifestations proceeded from the North. The spirit evinced in this passage, which is merely a specimen of the main argument of the work from which it is taken, is all the more remarkable in a writer who in his preface bespeaks the confidence of his readers on the ground that "personal considerations and valued friendships incline him without exception to the Northern side," which he has been compelled reluctantly to abandon by "convictions forced upon the mind by facts and reasonings."

 

CHAPTER V. INTERNAL DEVELOPMENT OF SLAVE SOCIETIES.

It may be well here to trace briefly the salient features of the system which in the previous chapters it has been attempted to describe. A race superior to another in power and civilization holds that other in bondage, compelling it to work for its profit. The enslaved race, separated broadly from the dominant one in its leading physical and moral attributes, is further distinguished from it by the indelible mark of colour, which prevents the growth of mutual sympathy and transmits to posterity the brand of its disgrace. Kept in compulsory ignorance and deprived of all motive for intelligent exertion, this people can only furnish its possessors with the crudest form of manual labour. It is thus rendered unfit for every branch of industry which requires, in any but the lowest forms, the exercise of care, intelligence, or skill, and is virtually restricted to the pursuit of agriculture. In agriculture it can only be turned to profitable account under certain special conditions—in raising crops of a peculiar kind and upon soils of more than average fertility; while these by its thriftless methods it tends constantly to exhaust. The labour of the enslaved race is thus in practice confined to the production of a few leading staples; but, through the medium of foreign trade, these few commodities become the means of furnishing its masters with all the Conveniences and comforts of life—the product of intelligence and skill in countries where labour is free. Further, it was seen that the defects of servile labour are best neutralized, and such advantages as it possesses best turned to account, where the scale of the operations is large,—a circumstance, which, by placing a premium on the employment of large capitals, has gradual^ led to the accumulation of the whole wealth of the country in the hands of a small number of persons. Four million slaves have thus come into the possession of masters less than one-tenth of their number, by whom they are held as chattel property; while the rest of the dominant race, more numerous than slaveholders and their slaves together, squat over the vast area which slave labour is too unskilful to cultivate, where by hunting and fishing, by plunder or by lawless adventure, they eke out a precarious livelihood. Three leading elements are thus presented by the economy of the slave states —a few planters cultivating the richest soils, a multitude of slaves toiling for their profit, the bulk of the white population dispersed in a semi-savage condition over a vast territory. In course of time the system begins to bear its fruit. The more fertile soils of the country, tasked again and again to render the same products, at length become exhausted, and refuse any longer to yield up their riches to servile hands; but there are new soils within reach which the plough has not yet touched, regions of high fertility, pre-eminently fitted for the cultivation of slave products, bordering however on the tropics, and unfavourable to human life when engaged in severe toil. At this point a new phase of the system discloses itself. A division of labour takes place. A portion of the slaveholders with their slave bands move forward to occupy the new territory, while the remainder, holding to their old seats, become the breeders of slaves for those who have left them, and take, as their part, the repairing from their more healthy populations the waste of slave life produced by tropical toil. Thus, as the domain of slavery is extended, its organization becomes more complete, and the fate of the slave population more harsh and hopeless. Slavery in its simple and primitive form is developed into slavery supported by a slave trade—into slavery expansive, aggressive, destructive of human life, regardless of human ties, —into slavery in its most dangerous and most atrocious form; and for the system thus matured a secure basis is afforded by the principles of population. Such is an outline of the economy of society in the Slave States of North America, as I have ventured to describe it; and the condition of facts which it discloses goes far, as it seems to me, to establish the conclusion that it is a structure essentially different from any form of social life which has hitherto been known among progressive communities, and one which, if allowed to proceed in its normal development undisturbed by intervention from without, can only conduct to one issue—an organized barbarism of the most relentless and formidable kind.

But it may be well to pursue this inquiry somewhat further. If the germs of a future civilization are contained in the social system which has been described, in what department of it are they to be found? Among the mean whites? Among the slaves? Among the slave masters?

The mean whites, as has been shown, are the natural growth of the slave system; their existence and character flowing necessarily from two facts—the slaves, which render the capitalists independent of their services,[15] and the wilderness, the constant feature of slave countries, which enables them to exist without engaging in regular work. There is no capital to support them as hired labourers, and they have the means of subsisting, in a semi-savage condition, without it. Under these circumstances, by what steps are they to advance to an improvement of their condition?

It will perhaps be thought that with a vast unappropriated territory around them the mean whites may be expected in time to become peasant proprietors, and to cultivate the districts which they now merely occupy. This is undoubtedly what would happen with an influx of Northern settlers. But the mean whites lack for such a lot two indispensable requisites, capital and industry. Had they the latter, they might perhaps in time acquire the former; but regular industry is only known to them as the vocation of slaves, and it is the one fate which above all others they desire to avoid. They will for a time, indeed, when pressed for food, their ordinary resources of hunting or plunder failing them, hire themselves out for occasional services; but, so soon as they have satisfied the immediate need, they hasten to escape from the degradation of industry, and are as eager as Indians to return to their wilds.

Another means of redemption is sometimes imagined for the mean whites. It is thought that, with the progress of population in the Slave States, they will ultimately be forced into competition with the slaves, and that, this competition once effectually commenced, the whites once engaged in regular industry, the superiority of free to servile labour will become manifest, and will gradually lead to the displacement of the latter. In this way, it is anticipated, the problem of abolishing slavery, and that of elevating the white population, may in the natural course of events be effectually solved by the same process. Unfortunately this cheering view is entirely unsustained by any foundation of fact. Population in slave communities follows laws of growth of its own. It increases, it is true, but by dispersion, not by concentration, and consequently the pressure upon the poor white, which it is assumed will force him into competition with the slave, is never likely to be greater than at the present moment. In fact it has now in many districts reached the starvation point, but without producing any of the effects which are anticipated from it. But, again, the free labour of the South possesses none of that superiority to slave labour, which is characteristic of free labour when reared in free communities. This is a distinction which in economic reasonings on slavery is frequently overlooked,[16] but which it is all-important to bear in mind. The free labourer reared in free communities, energetic, intelligent, animated by the impulse of acquiring property, and trained to habits of thrift, is the best productive agent in the world, and, when brought into competition with the slave, will, except under very exceptional circumstances (such as existed when the continent was first settled), prove more than a match for him. But the free labourer of the South, blighted physically and morally by the presence of slavery, and trained in habits more suited to savage than to industrial life, easily succumbs in the competition. In fact the experiment is being constantly tried in the Southern States, and always with the same result. On the relative merits of slave and free labour—such free labour as the Slave States can produce—there is but one opinion among the planters. It is universally agreed that the labour of the mean whites [17] is more inefficient, more unreliable, more unmanageable than even the crude efforts of the slaves. If slavery in the South is to be displaced by free industry, it can never be through the competition of such free industry as this.

It does not appear, therefore, in what manner habits of regular industry can ever be acquired by the mass of the population of the Southern States while under a slave régime. The demoralization produced by the presence of a degraded class renders the white man at once an unwilling and an inefficient labourer; and the external incidents of slavery afford him the means of existing without engaging in regular toil. The question has, in truth, passed beyond the region of speculation. For two hundred years it has been submitted to the proof; and the mean whites are as far now from having made any progress in habits of regular industry as they were at the commencement of the period.

The result, then, at which we arrive is, that regular industry is not to be expected from the mass of the free people of the Southern States while slavery continues. Let us for a moment reflect upon some of the consequences involved in this single fact.

And, first, it is evident that under these conditions population in the Slave States must ever remain sparse; for density of population is the result of concentrated wealth, and concentrated wealth flows from the steady pursuit of systematic industry. What are the facts? Over the whole area of the Slave States the average density of population does not exceed 11.29 persons to the square mile. It is true a large portion of the region included in this average has but recently been acquired, and cannot be considered as having yet received its full complement of inhabitants. Let us, then, confine our observations to the older states. If population be capable of becoming dense under slave institutions, it should have realized this condition in Yirginia. This state has been for two hundred and fifty years the seat of the Anglo-Saxon race, and the chosen field of its industry: it abounds in natural advantages; its climate is remarkably salubrious. What, then, is the result of the experiment in Virginia? It appears from the census of 1850, that, after an industrial career of two hundred and fifty years, this country contained an average of 23 persons to the square mile! This, however, does not adequately represent the case; for of these 23 persons one-third on an average were slaves. Deducting these, the density of population in Yirginia—-of population among whom knowledge is not considered contraband, of population who are capable of mixing together as fellow-citizen (which is the point essential totmr argument) —the density of this population is represented by the proportion of 15 persons to the square mile! Compare this with the progress of population in an area of the Free States naturally less favourable to the multiplication of people and not so long settled,—with the area comprised by Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania —and what do we find? Population has here, in a shorter time, and under external conditions less favourable, reached an average density of 82 persons to the square mile. For equal areas in the Free and Slave States there are thus considerably more than five persons capable of taking part in the business of civilized life in the former for one in the latter. Population under slave institutions, in fact, only increases by dispersion. Fifteen persons to the square mile represent the maximum density which population under the most favourable circumstances is, with slavery, capable of attaining.[18] Now, this state of things is incompatible with civilized progress. Under such conditions social intercourse cannot exist; popular education becomes impracticable; roads, canals, railways, must be losing speculations; in short, all the civilizing agencies of highest value are, by the very nature of the case, excluded. Among a people so dispersed, for example, how is popular education to be carried on? Not to dwell upon the obstacles presented to the diffusion of knowledge by the mental habits of a people accustomed to the life of the mean whites—a life alternating between listless vagrancy and the excitement of marauding expeditions—the mere physical difficulties of the problem —the task of bringing together from a population so dispersed the materials of a school—would' be such as might well discourage the most determined zeal. In point of fact, all attempts at conveying education to the bulk of the people in the Southern States have proved costly failures. Experiments have been made in some of the states, and always with the same result.[19] The moral and physical difficulties of the problem have proved insuperable; and the mass of the people remains, and under the present social system ever must remain, entirely uninstructcd.

Nor is this the only way in which sparseness of population operates unfavourably on the intellectual progress of a people. Scarcely less important than school teaching, as instruments of popular education, are the societies established for the mutual improvement of those who take part in them, such as mechanics' institutes, and literary and scientific associations, of which, such extensive use is made in this country and in the Northern States. But from this efficacious mode of awakening intelligence, a people, whose social institutions prevent it from attaining greater concentration than is reached by the people of the South, is entirely excluded.[20]

Lastly, how are the means of communication to be developed under such conditions? How are railways to be made profitable in a population of fifteen persons to the square mile? Railways, no doubt, have been made in the South, but with more advantage to the travellers than to the shareholders. In South Carolina a train has been known to travel a hundred miles with a single passenger.[21]

The mean whites seem thus, under an inexorable law, to be bound to their present fate by the same chain which holds the slave to his. Slavery produces distaste for industry. Distaste for industry, coexisting with a wilderness which is also the fruit of slavery, disperses population over vast areas as the one condition, of its increase. Among such a people the requisites of progress do not exist; the very elements of civilization are wanting.

If, then, society is to advance in the South, we must look somewhere else than among the mass of the white population for the motive principle which is to propel it. And where are we to look? Southern society furnishes but two other elements —the slaves and their masters. What germ of hope does either of these present? If civilization is to spring up among the negro race, it will scarcely be contended that this will happen while they are still slaves; and if the present ruling clasl are ever to rise above the existing type, it must be in some other capacity than as slaveholders. The whole question therefore turns ultimately on the chances of slave emancipation. Slave emancipation may, of course, be forced upon the South by pressure from without; but the point which we have now to consider is the prospect of this result being attained in the natural course of its internal development.

And first let us observe the inherent difficulty of the problem. It was shown in a former chapter that in the system of North American slavery, obstacles exist to the emancipation of the slave which had no place among the ancients. It may now be added that the difficulties of slave emancipation in the present Slave States are far greater than those which were successfully encountered in the Northern. Owing to causes already explained, slavery had never taken very firm root in the North: it was becoming, with the growth of society, constantly less profitable: the total number of slaves formed but a small fraction of the whole population: above all, the Northern States had in the markets of the South a ready means of ridding themselves, at trifling loss, of a class which had become an incumbrance. For, to borrow the words of De Tocqueville, the overthrow of slavery in the Northern States was effected "by abolishing the principle of slavery, not by setting the slaves free." The Northern people did not emancipate negroes who were enslaved, but they provided for the future extinction of slavery by legislating for the freedom of their offspring. The operation of this plan may be readily supposed. The future offspring of the slave having by the law of a particular state been declared free, the slave himself lost a portion of his value in that state. But in the South these laws had no force, and consequently in the South the value of the slave was unaltered by the change. The effect, therefore, of the Northern measures of abolition was, for the most part, simply to transfer Northern slaves to Southern markets. In this way, by an easy process, without incurring any social danger, and at slight pecuniary loss, the Northern States got rid of slavery. The problem of enfranchisement in the South is of a very different character. Slavery, instead of being, as it always was in the North, but one, and an unimportant one, among many modes of industry, is there virtually the sole industrial instrument: instead of comprising an insignificant fraction of the whole population, it comprises throughout the whole South one-third, and in some States one-half: it numbers altogether four millions of people: lastly, the South is wholly without that easy means of shuffling off slavery which its own markets provided for the North. The two cases are thus wholly unlike, and the spontaneous disappearance of slavery from the Northern section of the Union gives little ground to hope for a similar result in the present Slave States.

And still less warranted are we in expecting a policy of emancipation from the South by the history of British emancipation in the West Indies; for that event was not brought about in the natural course of social improvement in those islands, but was forced upon them by the mother nation, in the face of the protests and remonstrances of their ruling classes. Instead of being the natural result of principles called into action under slave institutions, it was only accomplished with difficulty through the direct and forcible interposition of an external authority.

So far as to ancient and modern precedents: they are palpably inapplicable to the present case. But there are those who anticipate the growth of a liberal policy in the South from the gradual operation of economic causes in ultimately identifying the interests of planters with those of the general community.[22] It will be worth while briefly to examine the argument which is founded upon this view of the case. It is said that free labour (regarded from a purely economic point of view—moral considerations apart) being superior to slave labour, and this principle being exemplified by the whole industrial history of the Northern and Southern States—the former, though naturally less fertile, having far outstripped the latter in the race of material prosperity—the truth must ultimately be recognised by the slaveholders themselves, and that, so soon as this happens, they will be led by self-interest to adopt a policy of emancipation. The case may indeed be put more strongly than this; for slavery has not merely thwarted the general prosperity of the South, it may even be shown to have operated to the special detriment of the particular class for whose exclusive behoof it is maintained. For the slaveholders of the South are also its landed proprietors, and the uniform effect of slavery (as has been shown in a former part of this essay) has been, by confining cultivation to the rich soils, to prevent the growth of rent. So powerfully, indeed, has this cause operated, that it has been calculated, apparently upon good grounds,[23] that the mere difference in rent between the returns from lands of equal quality in the Free and Slave States, would be more than sufficient to buy up the whole slave property of the South. By the abolition of slavery in that country, therefore, not merely would the general prosperity of the inhabitants be promoted, but, by the rise of rent which would be the consequence of this measure, there would result to slaveholders a special gain—a gain which, it may reasonably be thought, would form a liberal compensation for any temporary inconvenience they might suffer from the change. Considerations so obvious, it is argued, must in the end have their effect on the minds of the ruling class in the South, and must lead them before long to abolish a system which is fraught with such baleful effects to the country and to themselves.

To the soundness of this reasoning, so far as it proves the beneficial results which would follow from the abolition of slavery, I do not think that any valid objection can be offered. It appears to me as demonstrable as any proposition in Euclid, that, extending our view over some generations, slavery has acted injuriously on every class and every interest in the South, and that its continued maintenance is absolutely incompatible with the full development of the resources of the country. Nevertheless it would, I conceive, be infinitely precarious from this position to infer that slaveholders will ever be induced voluntarily to abolish slavery. The slaveholders of the South are perfectly aware of the superior prosperity of the Free States: it is with them, a subject of bitter mortification and envy; but, with the most conclusive evidence before their eyes, they persist in attributing this to every cause but the right one. Supposing, however, that they are in the end convinced, by such arguments as I have referred to, of the injurious effects of their system, and that they are satisfied that the immediate loss from the abolition of slavery would be more than made good to their descendants in the future increase in the value of their land, still I apprehend that they would be as far as ever from being won over to a policy of abolition. For, whatever be the future advantages which may be expected from the change, it is vain to deny that the transition from slavery to freedom could not be effected without great inconvenience, loss, and, doubtless, in many cases, ruin, to the present race of slave-holders. The accumulated results of two hundred years of tyranny, cruelty, and disregard of the first of human rights are not thus easily evaded. A sacrifice there would need to be.[24] And it is vain to expect that slaveholders, of whose system selfishness is the fundamental principle, and whose profits are purchased, not merely at the cost of misery to the whole race of living men, but at the cost of the future prosperity of their own descendants, whose interests in the soil their spendthrift system anticipates—it is vain to expect that they of all men should voluntarily devote -themselves for the good of their country. So long, therefore, as slaveholders have at their disposal an unlimited extent of fertile soil suited to slave products, it is, I think, vain to hope that the question of slavery will ever find its solution in economic motives. But, in truth, it is idle to argue this question on purely economic grounds. It is not simply as a productive instrument that slavery is valued by its supporters. It is far rather for its social and political results—• as the means of upholding a form of society in which slaveholders are the sole depositaries of social prestige and political power, as the " corner stone" of an edifice of which they are the masters—that the system is prized. Abolish slavery and you introduce a new order of things, in which the ascendancy of the men who now rule in the South would be at an end. An immigration of new men would set in rapidly from various quarters. The planters and their adherents would soon be placed in a hopeless minority in their old dominions. New interests would take root and grow; new social ideas would germinate; new political combinations would be formed; and the power and hopes of the party which has long swayed the politics of the Union, and which now seeks to break loose from that Union in order to secure a free career for the accomplishment of bolder designs, would be gone for ever. It is this which constitutes the real strength of slavery in the Southern States, and which precludes even the momentary admission by the dominant party there of any proposition which has abolition for its object.

And in view of this aspect of North American slavery, we may see how perfectly futile, how absolutely childish, is the suggestion, that the Slave party should be bought over by the Federal government through the offer of a liberal compensation, after the precedent of Great Britain dealing with her West Indian possessions. Putting aside the magnitude of the sum, which, at the price of slaves which recently prevailed, would certainly not be less than £300,000,000 sterling, and the impossibility of raising it in the present state of American credit, who that knows anything of the aims of the Southern party can suppose that the proposal, if made, would not be rejected with scorn ?[25] The suggestion supposes that men who have long held paramount influence over the North American continent, and who are probably now meditating plans of annexation and conquest, would at once abandon their position as the chiefs of an independent confederacy, and forego their ambitious schemes, for what ?—for a sum of money which, if well invested, might perhaps enable them and their descendants to vegetate in peaceful obscurity!

But there is yet another influence to be taken account of in arguing this question. Slavery has not merely determined the general form and character of the social and political economy of the Southern States, it has entered into the soul of the people, and has generated a code of ethics and a type of Christianity adapted to its peculiar requirements.

At the epoch of the revolution, as has been already intimated, slavery was regarded by all the eminent men who took part in that movement as essentially an evil—an evil which might indeed be palliated as having come down to that generation from an earlier and less enlightened age, and which, having intwined itself with the institutions of the country, required to be delicately dealt with—but still an evil, indefensible on moral and religious grounds, and which ought not to be permanently endured. The Convention of 1774 unanimously condemned the practice of holding slaves. The Convention of 1787, while legislating for the continuance of slavery, resolved to exclude from the constitution the word " slave," lest it should be thought that the American nation gave any sanction to "the idea that there could be property in men." Washington, a native of the South and a slaveholder, declared it to be among his first wishes to see slavery abolished by law, and in his will provided for the emancipation of his slaves. Jefferson, also a native of the South and a slaveholder, framed a plan of abolition, and declared that in the presence of slavery "he trembled for his country when he reflected that God was just;" that in the event of a rising of slaves, "the Almighty had no attribute which could take side with slaveowners in such a contest." The other leading statesmen of that time, Franklin, Madison, Hamilton, Patrick Henry, the Randolphs, Monroe, wrhether from the North or from the South, whether agreeing or not in their views on the practical mode of dealing with the institution, alike concurred in reprobating at least the principle of slavery.

But it seems impossible that a whole people should live permanently in contemplation of a system which does violence to its moral instincts. One of two results will happen. Either its moral instincts will lead it to reform the institution which offends them, or those instincts will be perverted, and become authorities for what in their unsophisticated condition they condemned. The latter alternative is that which has happened in the Southern States. Slavery is no longer regarded there as a barbarous institution, to be palliated with whispering humbleness as an inheritance from a ruder age; but rather as a system admirable for its intrinsic excellence, worthy to be upheld and propagated, the last and completest result of time.[26] The right of the white man to hold the negro in permanent thraldom, to compel him to work for his profit, to keep him in enforced ignorance, to sell him, to flog him, and if need be, to kill him, to separate him at pleasure from his wife and children, to transport him for no crime to a remote region where he is in a few years worked to death—this is now propounded as a grand discovery in ethical and political science, made for the first time by the enlightened leaders of the Southern Confederation, and recommended by that philanthropic body to all civilized nations for their adoption. This Confederation, which is the opprobrium of the age, puts itself forward as a model for its imitation, and calmly awaits the tardy applause of mankind. "The ideas entertained at the time of the formation of the old Constitution," says the Vice-President of the Southern Confederacy, "were that the enslavement of the African race wras in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. Our new government is founded on exactly opposite ideas ; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and moral condition. This our Government is the first in the history of the world oased upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. It is upon this our social fabric is firmly planted, and I cannot permit myself to doubt the ultimate success of the full recognition of this principle throughout the civilized aird enlightened world. . . . This stone which was rejected by the first builders 'is become the chief stone of the corner' in our new edifice."[27] Opinion in the South has long passed beyond the stage at which slavery needs to be defended by argument. The subject is now never touched but in a strain such as the freedom conquered at Marathon and Platsea inspired in the orators of Athens. It is "the beneficent source and wholesome foundation of our civilization;" an institution, " moral and civilizing, useful at once to blacks and whites." "To suppress slavery would be to throw back civilization two hundred years." "It is not a moral evil. It is the Lord's doing, and marvellous in our eyes. . . It is by divine appointment."

But slavery in the South is something more than a moral and political principle: it has become a fashionable taste, a social passion. The possession of a slave in the South carries with it the same sort of prestige as the possession of land in this country, as the possession of a horse among the Arabs: it brings the owner into connexion with the privileged class and forms a presumption that he has attained a certain social position. Slaves have thus in the South acquired a factitious value, and are coveted with an eagerness far beyond what the intrinsic utility of their services would explain. A Chancellor of South Carolina describes slavery as in accordance with " the proudest and most deeply cherished feelings" of his countrymen—" feelings, which others, if they will, may call prejudices." A governor of Kansas declares that he "loves " the institution, and that he votes for it because he "loves" it. Nor are these sentiments confined to the slaveholding minority. The all-important circumstance is that they are shared equally by the whole white population. Far from reprobating a system which has deprived them of the natural means of rising in the scale of humanity, they fall in with the prevailing modes of thought, and are warm admirers, and, when need arises, effective defenders, of an institution which has been their curse. To be the owner of a slave is the chief object of the poor white's ambition; "quot servos pascit?" the one criterion by which he weighs the worth of his envied superiors in the social scale.

Such has been the course of opinion on the subject of slavery in the Southern States. The progress of events, far from conducing to the gradual mitigation and ultimate extinction of the system, has tended distinctly in the opposite direction—to the aggravation of its worst evils and the consolidation of its strength. The extension of the area subject to the Slave Power and the increase in the slave population have augmented at once the inducements for retaining the institution and the difficulty of getting rid of it; while the ideas of successive generations, bred up in its presence and under the influence of the interests to which it has given birth, have provided for it in the minds of the people a moral support. The result is, that the position of the slave in the Southern States at the present time, so far as it depends upon the will and power of his masters, is in all respects more hopeless than it has ever been in any former age, or in any other quarter of the world. A Fugitive Slave law, which throws into shade the former atrocities of slavery, has been enacted, and until the recent disturbances was strictly enforced. The education of the negro is more than ever rigorously proscribed. Emancipation finds in the growth of fanatical pro-slavery opinions obstacles more formidable even than in the laws. Propositions have been entertained by the legislatures in some states for reducing all free coloured persons to slavery by one wholesale enactment; in others these people have been banished from the state under pain of this fate. Everything in the laws, in the customs, in the education of the people, has been contrived with the single view of degrading the negro to the level of the brute, and blotting out from his mind the hope and even the idea of freedom.

The thoroughness—the absolute disregard of all consequences with which this purpose has been pursued, is but little understood in this country. History can supply no instance of a despotism more complete and searching than that which for some years past has prevailed in the Southern States. Since the attempt of John Brown at Harper's Ferry, its oppression has reached a height which can only be adequately described as a reign of terror. It is long since freedom of discussion on any question connected with slavery would have been tolerated. But it is not merely freedom of discussion which is now prohibited. The design seems, to have been formed of putting down freedom of thought, and of banishing from the South every trace of dissentient opinion. A system of espionage has been organized. The mail bags have in many states been freely opened, and the postmasters of petty villages have exercised a free discretion in giving or withholding the documents entrusted to their care. In the more southern states vigilance committees have been established en permanence. Before these self-constituted tribunals persons of unblemished reputation and inoffensive manners have been summoned, and, on a few days' notice, for no other offence than that of being known to entertain sentiments unfavourable to slavery, have been banished from the state where they resided; and this in direct violation of a specific provision of the Constitution of the United States.[28] Clergymen, who have broken no law, for merely discharging their duties according to their consciences, have been arrested, thrown into prison, and visited with ignominious punishment. Travellers, who have incautiously, in ignorance of the intensity of the popular feeling, ventured to give temperate expression to anti-slavery opinions, have been seized by the mob, tarred and feathered, ducked, flogged, and in some instances hanged. Nay1, so sensitively jealous has the feeling of the South become, that the slightest link of connexion with a suspected locality— to have resided in the North, to have sent one's children to a Northern school—is sufficient to secure expulsion from a slave state. An abolitionist in the ethics of the South is the vilest of all human beings, and every one is an abolitionist who does not reside in a slave state and share to the full the prevailing proslavery sentiment.[29] Such is the point which civilization has reached under slave institutions. At this cost the system is maintained.[30]

Endnotes

[15.] "The rich," said General Marion, and in these few words he sketched the whole working of slavery, "have no need of the poor, because they have their own slaves to do their work."

[16.] Thus a writer in the Saturday Review (Nov. 2, 1861), in noticing a work of Mr. Olmsted's, reasons as follows:—"It would be hasty to infer, as a great many philanthropists have done, that free labour would answer better than slave labour in the South. The Southern planters are keen enough speculators to have discovered the fact if it were true. In reality the experiment has been tried and resulted in favour of slave labour." The experiment no doubt has been tried, and with the result alleged; but how far the experiment, as it has been conducted, is conclusive, the reader will be enabled to judge when he reads the following passage from Mr. Olmsted, in a review of one of whose works the above argument occurred:—" The labourer, who in New York gave a certain amount of labour for his wages in a day, soon finds in Virginia that the ordinary measure of labour is smaller than in New York: a 'day's work' or a month's does not mean the same that it did in New York. He naturally adapts his wares to the market. . . . The labourer, finding that the capitalists of Virginia are accustomed to pay for a poor article at a high price, prefers to furnish them the poor article at their usual price, rather than a better article, unless at a more than correspondingly better price. . . . Now let the white labourer come here from the North or from Europe—his nature demands a social life—shall he associate with the poor, slavish, degraded negro, with whom labour and punishment are almost synonymous? or shall he be the friend and companion of the white man? . . . Associating with either or both, is it not inevitable that he will be rapidly demoralized—that he will soon learn to hate labour, give as little of it for his hire as he can, become base, cowardly, faithless,—' worse than a nigger'?" The case is simple. The moral atmosphere generated by slavery in the South corrupts the free labourer, whether native or imported: thus corrupted, he fails m competition with the slave; but does it follow from this that, if slavery no longer existed, free labour would be less efficient in the South than slave labour is at present? For that is the point.

[17.] And it may be added, of such free labourers as will consent to the degradation of living in a slave community.

[18.] The density of population in Delaware, Maryland, and Kentucky, is no doubt greater than this; but it is because these States are occupied, over considerable districts, with a free labouring peasantry, because in fact in these districts slavery has been abolished. This is the case with Western Virginia also to a considerable extent, and doubtless raises the average of the whole country above what a purely servile regime would produce.

[19.] See Olmsted's Seaboard Slave States, pp. 291, 292, 366, 361, 503.

[20.] Some statistics bearing upon tfris aspect of the question have been given by Mr. Helper, which are sufficiently striking. It appears that the number of public libraries throughout the whole of the Slave States are only 695 against 14,911 in the Free States; or about 1 public library in the South for 21 in the North. Again, the number of volumes in public libraries in the Slave States is 649,577; while the number in public libraries in the Free States is 3,888,284; that is to say, in the proportion of about 1 to 6.—(Helper's Impending Crisis, p. 337.) Probably, were the quality of the literature as well as the quantity given, the result would be still more significant.

[21.] See Stirling's Letters from the Slave States, p 265.

[22.] Mr. Stirling relies upon the following considerations as containing the solution of the problem. "Within the last ten or fifteen years the value of slaves has risen fifty per cent, at least. During the same time the price of bacon has risen 100 to 200 percent. Let this process only be continued for ten years longer, and where will be the profits of the cotton-planter? And here we may perhaps find the longlooked-for solution of the nigger question. When slave-labour becomes unprofitable the slave will be emancipated. South Carolina herself will turn abolitionist when slavery ceases to pay. When she finds that a brutalized race cannot and will not give as much efficient labour for the money as a hired class of superior workers, it is possible that she may lay aside the cowhide, and offer wages to her niggers."—Letters from Slave States, pp. 182, 183. The argument is palpably fallacious. It is the same as if one were to argue that the high rent of land must ultimately destroy agriculture. In each case the high price of the natural agent—land or slaves—results from the comparative profitableness of capital invested in the employment of one or the other. When the high price of land leads landlords to throw up their estates, an analogous course of conduct may be expected from slaveholders from an analogous inducement. The high price of the slave's food is scarcely to the point, since this must tell also against the free labourer: at all events, so long as the slave fetches any price, it is a proof that he is considered to be worth at least more than his keep.

[23.] See Olmsted's Seaboard Slave States, pp. 170, 171.

[24.] The West Indian experiment, I conceive, proves this as conclusively as it proves that the ultimate and permanent results of emancipation are beneficial to the whole country in the highest degree.

[25.] I am speaking, of course, of the reception which the proposition would meet with while the Slave party were yet triumphant. What it might be induced to accept if thoroughly beaten by the North, is another question which it is not necessary here to discuss.

Since these observations were written, the news of Mr. Lincoln's project of emancipation has arrived. It will be seen that the condition stated in the last sentence —the subjugation of the South—is precisely the circumstance which gives to that scheme the least chance of success. Mr. Lincoln knew too well the men with whom he had to deal to think of making such an offer till he was, or thought himself, in a position to enforce it.

[26.] It is instructive to observe the gradation by which this advanced point has been reached. Thirty years ago it was contended "that there was not the slightest moral turpitude in holding slaves under existing circumstances in the South."— Quarterly Review, Sept. and Dec, 1832.

[27.] Speech of Mr. A. H. Stephens, Vice-President of the Southern Confederacy, delivered March, 1861.

[28.] "The citizens of each state shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states."

[29.] It may readily be conceived that Southern intolerance did not relax as the great social schism approached its crisis. M. Cuchevah-Clarigny gives the following vivid sketch of the measures by which unionist sentiment was overborne in the South; —" Chaque jour on voyait arriver, dans les etats du centre ou de l'ouest, des gens qui avaient ete denonces comme mal pensans, et qui avaient recu, par lettre anonyme, l'invitation d'emigrer dans les vingt-quatre heures, sous peine de voir leur maison incendiee et de recevoir un coup de couteau. Les journaux de la Nouvelle-Orleans, qui combattaient la separation, furent contraints l'un apres l'autre de cesser leur publication ou de changer completement de langage. Dans les villes un peu importantes du sud, des bandes armees parcouraient les rues, precedees d'un drapeau avec le palmier, et des menaces de mort etaient proferees devant les maisons des gens suspects d'attachement a l'Union. Quand une legislature paraissait hesiter devant un vote belliqueux, on tenait des reunions publiques pour gourmander sa lenteur, et on lui adressait des objurgations. On ne parlait de rien moins en effet dans certains etats que de faie voter des mesures d'exception, l'emprisonnement ou l'exile des suspects, et la confiscation de leurs biens."—Annuaire des Deux Mondes, 1860, p. 617.

[30.] The Reign of Terror in the South,etc. pasim; also Reports of the American Anti Slavery Society, for the years 1857-:60.

 

 

Last modified January 11, 2018