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first, I advert to the proposed alteration of the law concerning fugitives from service or labor. . . .
We deem the principle of the law for the recapture of fugitives . . unjust, unconstitutional, and immoral; and thus, while patriotism withholds its approbation, the consciences of our people condemn it.
You will say that these convictions of ours are disloyal. Grant it for the sake of argument. They are, nevertheless, honest; and the law is to be executed among us, not among you; not by us, but by the Federal authority. Has any Government ever succeeded in changing the moral convictions of its subjects by force? But these convictions imply no disloyalty. We reverence the Constitution, although we perceive this defect, just as we acknowledge the splendor and the power of the sun, although its surface is tarnished with here and there an opaque spot.
Your Constitution and laws convert hospitality to the refugee, from the most degrading oppression on earth, into a crime, but all mankind except you esteem that hospitality a virtue. The right of extradition of a fugitive from justice, is not admitted by the law of nature and of nations, but rests in voluntary compacts.
. . The law of nations disavows such compacts; the law of nature, written on the hearts and consciences of freemen, repudiates them. Armed power could not enforce them, because there is no public conscience to sustain them. I know that there are laws of various sorts which regulate the conduct of men. There are constitutions and statutes, codes mercantile and codes civil; but when we are legislating for States, especially when we are founding States, all these laws must be brought to the standard of the laws of God, and must be tried by that standard, and must stand or fall by it. . . .
To conclude on this point: We are not slaveholders. We cannot, in our judgment, be either true Christians or real freemen, if we impose on another a chain that we defy all human power to fasten on ourselves. You believe and think otherwise, and doubtlessly with equal sincerity. We judge you not, and He alone who ordained the conscience of man and its laws of action, can judge us. Do we, then, in this conflict, demand of you an unreasonable thing in asking that, since you will have property that can and will exercise human powers to effect its escape, you shall be your own police, and in acting among us as such, you shall conform to principles indispensable to the security of admitted rights of freemen? If you will have this law executed, you must alleviate, not increase, its rigors. . .
But there is yet another aspect in which this principle must be examined. It regards the domain only as a possession, to be enjoyed, either in common or by partition, by the citizens of the old States. It is true, indeed, that the national domain is ours; it is true, it was acquired by the valor and with the wealth of the whole nation; but we hold, nevertheless, no arbitrary power over it. We hold no arbitrary authority over anything, whether acquired lawfully, or seized by usurpation. The Constitution regulates our stewardship; the Constitution devotes the domain to union, to justice, to defence, to welfare, and to liberty.
But there is a higher law than the Constitution, which regulates our authority over the domain, and devotes it to the same noble purposes. The territory is a part – no inconsiderable part of the common heritage of mankind, bestowed upon them by the Creator of the universe. We are his stewards, and must so discharge our trust as to secure, in the highest attainable degree, their happiness. . . .
This is a State, and we are deliberating for it, just as our fathers deliberated in establishing the institutions we enjoy. Whatever superiority there is in our condition and hopes, over those of any other "kingdom" or estate," is due to the fortunate circumstance that our ancestors did not leave things to "take their chance," but that they "added amplitude and greatness" to our commonwealth, "by introducing such ordinances, constitutions, and customs, as were wise." We, in our turn, have succeeded to the same responsibilities; and we cannot approach the duty before us, wisely or justly, except we raise ourselves to the great consideration of how we can most certainly "sow greatness to our posterity and successors."
And now the simple, bold, and even awful question which presents itself to us, is this: Shall we, who are founding institutions, social and political, for countless millions - shall we, who know by experience the wise and the just, and are free to choose them, and to reject the erroneous and unjust - shall we establish human bondage, or permit it, by our sufferance, to be established? Sir, our forefathers would not have hesitated an hour. They found slavery existing here, and they left it only because they could not remove it. There is not only no free State which would now establish it, but there is no slave State, which, if it had had the free alternative, as we now have, would have founded slavery. . . .
Appendix to the Congressional Globe, 31 Cong.. I sess. (John C. Rives, Washington, 1850), 262-265 passim, March 11, 1850.
CHAPTER IV-CONDITIONS OF SLAVERY
The Poor Whites (1850)
BY EMILY P. BURKE
The writer of the reminiscences from which this extract is taken was a New Hampshire teacher, who taught school in various parts of Georgia between 1840 and 1850. Though she looked at things through New England eyes, her descriptions are eminently fair. - Bibliography: Channing and Hart, Guide, §§ 186, 204.
LTHOUGH praise-worthy attempts have been made in various parts of Georgia, to diffuse the means of education more extensively than was formerly thought necessary, still there is a class of people in that State, as also in the Carolinas, who have never been benefitted by any of these privileges; and these individuals, though degraded and ignorant as the slaves, are, by their little fairer complexions entitled to all the privileges of legal suffrage. These people are known at the South by such names as crackers, clay-eaters, and sand-hillers. I have previously mentioned the circumstance from which they derived the appellation of crackers. They are called clay-eaters, because all this class of people, from the oldest to little children, are as much addicted to the eating of clay as some communities are to the use of tobacco and snuff. This senseless habit is indulged in to such an extent, that when a person has once seen a clay-eater, he can, ever after, instantly recognize any one of their number by their sickly, sallow, and most unnatural complexions, let them be seen in never so large a crowd. Children, by the time they are ten or twelve years of age, begin to look old, their countenances are stupid and heavy and they often become dropsical and loathsome to the sight. Those who survive this practice thirty or forty years, look very wrinkled and withered, their flesh shrunken to their bones like that of very aged people. They are also called sand-hillers from the grounds they usually occupy, which are the barren and sandy districts of Georgia and South Carolina, to which these poor wretched beings have been driven by the powerful and rich planters, who have wealth and avarice sufficient to secure to themselves all the best soil..
This part of the population of Georgia and some of the contiguous States, are the lineal descendents of those paupers from England, whom Gen. Oglethorpe brought to this country and by whom Georgia was first settled. The same crushed spirit that will ever suffer one to accept of a home in an alms house, seems to have been transmitted down to the present posterity of these emigrants, and their situation has always been such, they never have had the power to acquire education or wealth sufficient to raise them above their original degradation or enable them to shake off that odium they have inherited from their pauper ancestry. They have no ambition to do any thing more than just what is necessary to procure food enough of the coarsest kind to supply the wants of the appetite, and a scanty wardrobe of a fabric they manufacture themselves. If they should ever cherish a desire for any other life than such as the brutes might lead, it would be all in vain, for the present institutions and state of society at the South are calculated to paralyze every energy of both body and mind. They are not treated with half the respect by the rich people that the slaves are, and even the slaves themselves look upon them as their inferiors. I have seen the servants when one of these poor women came into a planter's house, dressed in her homespun frock, bonnet and shawl, collect together in an adjoining room or on the piazza and indulge in a fit of laughter and ridicule about her "cracker gown and bonnet," as they would call them.
Slavery renders labor so disreputable, and wages of slave labor so low, that if places could be found where they might hire out to service, there would be but little inducement to do so. Sometimes a young man who has a little more ambition than usually falls to the lot of his people, will succeed in obtaining a situation as overseer on a plantation. As such an office is to them quite honorable, they will almost give their services for it. I knew one young man about the age of nineteen who took the entire charge of a large plantation, and even labored with his own hands in the time of preparing the cotton for market, for the paltry sum of fifty dollars per year besides his board.
The sand-hillers usually cultivate a few acres of that barren land they are allowed to live upon, in the labor of which the females are obliged to take a part as well as the man. In this way they raise their corn, vegetables, and cotton, sufficient for domestic manufacture and sometimes a small quantity for market. When they do this, they can provide themselves with such luxuries as coffee, tea, sugar, etc., though besides coffee they seldom use any thing that is not the product of their own industry.
While I was residing in the interior of Georgia, one of these women sent her little daughter for me on horseback to go and make her a visit. I returned with the child on the beast with her; in the evening she carried me home in the same way. I found this woman living in a small log house, very neat, but there was nothing belonging to it, to which the term comfortable could be applied. She had a bed, a table, two or three benches that were used instead of chairs and a very little crockery. The kitchen was a separate little building, of course scantily supplied with cooking utensils. The entertainment she prepared for me, while I sat with her in her little kitchen on a stool, consisted of coffee without sugar, fried bacon and corn bread mixed with water only. She had neither vegetables, or butter, or any other condiment we consider essential to any repast. In the course of the afternoon she showed me a roll of cloth she had just taken from the loom, which she told me, was all the product of her own hard labor, commencing with the cotton seed. On inquiring if she could not purchase cloth much cheaper than she could manufacture it, she replied, "she could if her time was worth any thing, but there was no labor she could perform that would bring her any money."
At that age when the youth of the North are confined at hard lessons for six hours a day from one season to another, these children are wasting the spring time of their lives, in the fields and woods, climbing trees, robbing bird's nests, or breaking up the haunts of squirrels, and engaged in every such kind of mischief, enough of which is always to be found for idle hands to do. These are the children and youth that the advantages of education which some enjoy at the South, have never yet reached, and probably never will, till some special effort is made in their behalf by missionary labor. As long as the present feeling between the rich and poor exists, they can never be brought together into the same schools and if this could be effected it would not be expedient. I have seen the results of such an experiment in my own school. While I was teaching in the north part of Georgia, I gave two little girls belonging to one of these poor families, their tuition for the purpose of encouraging them to come to school, but the neglect and scornful treatment they received from those who considered themselves their superiors, because they had wealthy parents and servants and could dress fashionably while they were obliged to wear their coarse homespun dresses, contributed to make them so miserable they could derive but little advantage from their instruction, and such will always be the case if attempts are made to bring them into the schools of the wealthy.