ITS CEREMONIES

Time passed on; Mr. Peterkin drank more and more violently. He had grown
immense in size, and now slept nearly all the day as well as night. Dr.
Mandy had told the young ladies that there was great danger of apoplexy.
I frequently saw them standing off, talking, and looking at their father
with a strange expression, the meaning of which I could not divine; but
sure I am there was no love in it, ’twas more like a surmise or inquiry,
“How long will you be here?” I would not “set down aught in malice,” I
would rather “extenuate,” yet am I bound in truth to say that I think
their father’s death was an event to which they looked with pleasure. He
had not been showy enough for them, nor had he loved such display as
they wished: true, he allowed them any amount of money; but he objected
to conforming to certain fashions, which they considered indispensable
to their own position; and this difference in ideas and tastes created
much discord. They were not girls of feeling and heart. To them, a
father was nothing more than an accidental guardian, whose duty it was
to supply them with money.

Late one night, when I had fallen into a profound sleep, such an one as
I had not known for months, almost years, I was suddenly aroused by a
loud knocking at the cabin-door, and a shout of–

“Ann! Ann!”

I instantly recognized the sharp staccato notes of Miss Jane’s voice;
and, starting quickly up, I opened the door, but half-dressed, and
inquired what was wanting?

“Are you one of the Seven Sleepers, that it requires such knocking to
arouse you? Here I’ve been beating and banging the door, and yet you
still slept on.”

I stammered out something like an excuse; and she told me master was
very ill, and I must instantly heat a large kettle of water; that Dr.
Mandy had been sent for, and upon his arrival, prescribed a hot bath.

As quickly as the fire, aided by mine and Sally’s united efforts, could
heat the water, it was got ready. Jake, Nace, and Dan lifted the large
bathing-tub into Mr. Peterkin’s room, filled it with the warm water, and
placed him in it. The case was as Dr. Mandy had predicted. Mr. P. had
been seized with a violent attack of apoplexy, and his life was
despaired of.

All the efforts of the physician seemed to fail. When Mr. Peterkin did
revive, it was frightful to listen to him. Such revolting oaths as he
used! Such horrid blasphemy as poured from his lips, I shrink from the
foulness of recording.

Raving like a madman, he called upon God to restore his son, or stand
condemned as unjust. His daughters, in sheer affright, sent for the
country preacher; but the good man could effect nothing. His pious words
were wasted upon ears duller than stone.

“I don’t care a d–n for your religion. None of your hypocritical
prayin’ round me,” Mr. Peterkin would say, when the good parson sought
to beguile his attention, and lead him to the contemplation of divine
things.

Frightful it was, to me, to stand by his bed-side, and hear him call
with an oath for whiskey, which was refused.

He had drunk so long, and so deeply, that now, when he was suddenly
checked, the change was terrible to witness. He grew timid, and seemed
haunted by terrible spectres. Anon he would call to some fair-haired
woman, and shout out that there was blood, clotted blood, on her
ringlets; then, rolling himself up in the bed covering, he would shriek
for the skies and mountains to hide him from the meek reproach of those
girlish eyes!

“Something terrible is on his memory,” said the doctor to Miss Jane.
“Do you know aught of this?”

“Nothing,” she replied with a shudder.

“Don’t you remember,” asked Miss Tildy, “how often Johnny’s eyes seemed
to recall a remorseful memory, and how father would, as now, cry for
them to shut out that look which so tormented him?”

“Yes, yes,” and they both fled from the room, and did not again go near
their father. On the third evening of his illness, when Dr. Mandy (who
had been constantly with him) sat by his bed, holding his pulse, he
turned on his side, and asked in a mild tone, quite unusual to him,

“Doctor, must I die? Tell me the truth; I don’t want to be deceived.”

After a moment’s pause, the doctor replied, “Yes, Mr. Peterkin, I will
speak the truth; I don’t think you can recover from this attack, and, if
I am not very much mistaken, but a few hours of mortal life now remain
to you.”

“Then I must speak on a matter what has troubled me a good deal. If I
was a good scholar I’d a writ it out, and left it fur you to read; but
as I warn’t much edicated, I couldn’t do that, so I’ll jist tell you
all, and relieve my mind.” Here Mr. Peterkin’s face assumed a frightful
expression; his eyes rolled terribly in his head, and blazed with an
expression which no language can paint. His very hair seemed erect with
terror.

“Don’t excite yourself; be calm! Wait until another time, then tell me.”

“No, no, I must speak now, I feel it ’twill do me good. Long time ago I
had a good kind mother, and one lovely sister;” and here his voice sank
to a whisper. “My father I can’t remember; he died when I was a baby. I
was a wild boy; a ‘brick,’ as they usin’ to call me. ‘Way off in old
Virginny I was born and raised. My mother was a good, easy sort of
woman, that never used any force with her children, jist sich a person
as should raise gals, not fit to manage onruly boys like me. I jist had
my own way; came and went when I pleased. Mother didn’t often reprove
me; whenever she did, it was in a gentle sort of way that I didn’t mind
at all. I’d promise far enough; but then, I’d go and do my own way. So I
growed up to the age of eighteen. I’d go off on little trips; get myself
in debt, and mother’d have to pay. She an’ sis had to take in sewin’ to
support ’emselves, and me too. Wal, they didn’t make money fast enough
at this; so they went out an’ took in washin’. Sis, poor little thing,
hired herself out by the day, to get extry money for to buy little
knic-nacs fur mother, whose health had got mighty bad. Wal, their rent
had fell due, and Lucy (my sister) and mother had bin savin’ up money
fur a good while, without sayin’ anything to me ’bout it; but of nights
when they thought I was asleep, I seed ’em slip the money in a drawer of
an old bureau, that stood in the room whar I slept. Wal, I owed some men
a parcel of money, gamblin’ debts, and they had bin sorter quarrelin’
with me ’bout it, and railin’ of me ’bout my want of spirit, and I was
allers sort of proud an’ very high-tempered. So I ‘gan to think mother
and Luce was a saving up money fur to buy finery fur ’emselves, an’ I
‘greed I’d fix ’em fur it. So one night I made my brags to the boys that
I’d pay the next night, with intrust. Some of ’em bet big that I
wouldn’t do it. So then I was bound fur it. Accordin’, next night I
tried to get inter the drawer; but found it fast locked. I tried agin.
At length, with a wrinch, I bust it open, an’ thar before me, all in
bright specie, lay fifty dollars! A big sum it ‘peared to me, and then I
was all afired with passion, for Luce had refused me when I had axed her
to lend me money. Jist as I had pocketed it, an’ was ‘about to drive out
of the room, Lucy opened the door, an’ seein’ the drawer wide open, she
guessed it all. She gave one loud scream, saying, ‘Oh, all our hard
savin’s is gone.’ I made a sign to her to keep silent; but she went on
hallowin’ and cotcht hold of me, an’ by a sort of quare strength, she
got her arm round me, an’ her hand in my pocket, where the money was.”

“You musn’t have this, indeed you musn’t,” said she, “for it is to pay
our rent.”

“One desperate effort I made, an’ knocked her to the floor. Her head
struck agin the sharp part of the bureau, and the blood gushed from it;
I give one loud yell for mother, an’ then fled. Give me some water,” he
added, in a hollow tone.

After moistening his lips, he continued:

“Reachin’ my companions, I paid down every cent of the money, principal
and interest, then got my bet paid, and left ’em, throwin’ a few dollars
toward ’em for the gineral treat.

“About midnight, soft as a cat, I crept along to our house; and I knew
from the light through the open shutter of the winder, that she was
either dead or dyin’; for it was a rule at our house to have the lights
put out afore ten.

“I slipped up close to the winder, and lookin’ in, saw the very wust
that I had expected–Lucy in her shroud! A long, white sheet was spread
over the body! Two long candles burnt at the head and foot of the
corpse. Three neighbor-women was watchin’ with her. While I still
looked, the side door opened, and mother came in, looking white as a
ghost. She turned down the sheet from the body. I pressed my face still
closer to the winder-pane; and saw that white, dead face; the forehead,
where the wound had been given, was bandaged up. Mother knelt down, and
cried out with a tone that froze my blood–

“‘My child, my murdered child!’ I did not tarry another minute; but with
one loud yell bounded away. This scream roused the women, who seized up
the candle and run out to the door. I looked back an’ saw them with
candles in hand, examining round the house. For weeks I lived in the
woods on herbs and nuts; occasionally stoppin’ at farm-houses, an’
buyin’ a leetle milk and bread, still I journeyed on toward the West, my
land of promise. At last, on foot, after long travel, I reached
Kaintuck. I engaged in all sorts of head-work, but didn’t succeed very
well till I began to trade in niggers; then I made money fast enough. I
was a hard master. It seemed like I was the same as that old Ishmael you
read of in the old book; my hand was agin every man, and every man’s
agin me. After while, I got mighty rich from tradin’ in niggers, and
married. These is my children. This is all of my story,–a bad one ’tis
too; but, doctor, that boy, my poor, dead Johnny, was so like Lucy that
he almost driv’ me mad. At times he had a sartin look, jist like hern,
that driv’ a dagger to my heart. Oh, Lord! if I die, what will become of
me? Give me some whiskey, doctor, I mus’ have some, for the devil and
all his imps seem to be here.”

He began raving in a frightful manner, and sprang out of bed so
furiously that the doctor deemed it necessary to have him confined.
Jake, Dan, and Nace were called in to assist in tying their master. It
was with difficulty they accomplished their task; but at last it was
done. Panting and foaming at the mouth, this Goliath of human
abominations lay! He, who had so often bound negroes, was now by them
bound down! If he had been fully conscious, his indignation would have
known no limits.

Miss Jane sent for me to come to her room. I found her in hysterics.
Immediately, at her command, I set about rubbing her head, and chafing
her temples and hands with cologne; but all that I could do seemed to
fall far short of affording any relief. It appeared to me that her lungs
were unusually strong, for such screams I hardly ever listened to; but
her life was stout enough to stand it. The wicked are long-lived!

Miss Tildy had more self-control. She moved about the house with her
usual indifference, caring for and heeding no one, except as she
bestowed upon me an occasional reprimand, which, to this day, I cannot
think I deserved. If she mislaid an article of apparel, she instantly
accused me of having stolen it; and persisted in the charge until it was
found. She always accompanied her accusations with impressive blows. It
is treatment such as this that robs the slave of all self-respect. He is
constantly taught to look upon himself as an animal, devoid of all good
attributes, without principle, and full of vice. If he really tries to
practice virtue and integrity, he gets no credit for it. “_Honest for a
nigger_,” is a phrase much in use in Kentucky; the satirical
significance of which is perfectly understood by the astute African. I
knew that it was hard for me to hold fast to my principles amid such
fierce trials. It was so common a charge–that of liar and thief–that
despite my practice to the contrary, I almost began to accept the terms
as deserved. In some cases, the human conscience is a flexile thing!
but, thank Heaven! mine withstood the trial!

* * * * * * *

On the morning of the fifth day after Mr. Peterkin’s illness, his
perturbed spirit, amid imprecations and blasphemies the most horrible,
took its leave of the mortal tenement. Whither went it, oh, angel of
mercy? A fearful charge had his guardian-angel to render up.

This was the second time I had witnessed the death of a human master. I
had no tears; and, as a veracious historian, I am bound to say that I
regard it as a beneficent dispensation of Divine Providence. He, my
tyrant, had gone to his Judge to render a fearful account of the
dreadful deeds done in the body.

After he was laid out and appropriately dressed, and the room darkened,
the young ladies came in to look at him. I believe they wept. At least,
I can testify to the premonitory symptoms of weeping, viz., the
fluttering of white pocket-handkerchiefs, in close proximity to the
eyes! The neighbors gathered round them with bottles of sal-volatile,
camphor, fans, &c., &c. There was no dearth of consolatory words, for
they were rich. Though Mr. Peterkin’s possessions were vast, he could
carry no tithe of them to that land whither he had gone; and at that bar
before which he must stand, there would flash on him the stern eye of
Justice. His trial there would be equitable and rigid. His money could
avail him nought; for _there_ were allowed no “packed juries,” bribed
and suborned witnesses, no wily attorneys to turn Truth astray; no
subtleties and quibbles of litigation; all is clear, straight, open,
even-handed justice, and his own deeds, like a mighty cloud of
evidence, would rise up against him–and so we consign him to his fate
and to his mother earth.

But he was befittingly buried, even with the rites of Christianity!
There was a man in a white neck-cloth, with a sombre face, who read a
psalm, offered up a well-worded prayer, gave out a text, and therefrom
preached an appropriate, elegiac sermon. Not one, to be sure, in which
the peculiar virtues of brother Peterkin were set forth, but a sort of
pious oration, wherein religion, practical and revealed, was duly
encouraged, and great sympathy offered to the _lovely_ and bereaved
daughters, &c., &c.

The body was placed in a very fine coffin, and interred in the family
burying-ground, near his wife and son! At the grave, Miss Jane, who well
understood scenic effect, contrived to get up an attack of syncope, and
fell prostrate beside the new-made grave. Of course “the friends”
gathered round her with restoratives, and, shouting for “air,” they made
an opening in the crowd, through which she was borne to a carriage and
driven home.

I had lingered, tenderly, beside young master’s tomb, little heeding
what was passing around, when this theatrical excitement roused me. Oh!
does not one who has real trouble, heart-agony, sicken when he hears of
these affectations of grief?

Slowly, but I suspect with right-willing hearts, the crowd turned away
from the grave, each betaking himself to his own home and pursuit.

A few weeks after, a stately monument, commemorative of his good deeds,
was erected to the memory of James Peterkin.

Weeks rolled monotonously by after the death of Mr. Peterkin. There was
nothing to break the cloud of gloom that enveloped everything.

The ladies were, as ever, cruel and abusive. Existence became more
painful to me than it had been before. It seemed as if every hope was
dead in my breast. An iron chain bound every aspiration, and I settled
down into the lethargy of despair. Even Nature, all radiant as she is,
had lost her former charms. I looked not beyond the narrow horizon of
the present. The future held out to me no allurements, whilst the dark
and gloomy past was an arid plain, without fountain, or flower, or
sunshine, over which I dared not send my broken spirit.

In this state of dreary monotony, I passed my life for months, until an
event occurred which changed my whole after-fate.

Mr. Summerville, who, it seems, had kept up a regular correspondence
with Miss Jane, made us a visit, and, after much secret talking in dark
parlors, long rambles through the woods, twilight and moonlight
whisperings on the gallery, Miss Jane announced that there would, on the
following evening, be performed a marriage ceremony of importance to
all, but of very particular interest to Mr. Summerville and herself.

Accordingly, on the evening mentioned, the marriage rite was solemnized
in the presence of a few social friends, among whom Dr. Mandy and wife
shone conspicuously. I duly plied the guests with wine, cakes and
confections.

Miss Tildy, by the advice of her bride-sister, enacted the pathetic
very perfectly. She wept, sighed, and, I do believe, fainted or tried to
faint. This was at the special suggestion of her sister, who duly
commended and appreciated her.

Mr. Summerville, for the several days that he remained with us, looked,
and was, I suppose, the very personification of delight.

In about a week or ten days after the solemnization of the matrimonial
rite, Mr. Summerville made his “better half” (or worse, I know not
which), understand that very important business urged his immediate
return to the city. Of course, whilst the novelty of the situation
lasted, she was as obedient and complaisant as the most exacting husband
could demand, and instantly consented to her lord’s request. She bade me
get ready to accompany her; and, as she had heard that people from the
country were judged according to the wardrobe of their servants, she
prepared for me quite a decent outfit.

One bright morning, I shall ever remember it, we started off with
innumerable trunks, band-boxes, &c.–for the city of L—-. Without one
feeling of regret, I turned my face from the Peterkin farm. I never saw
it after, save in dark and fearful dreams, from which I always awoke
with a shudder. I felt half-emancipated, when my back was turned against
it, and in the distance loomed up the city and freedom. I had a queer
fancy, that if the Peterkin influence were once thrown off, the rest
would speedily succeed!

If I had only been allowed, I could have shouted out like a school-boy
freed from a difficult lesson; but Miss Jane’s checking glance was upon
me, and ’twas like winter’s frozen breath over a gladsome lake.

I well remember the beautiful ride upon the boat, and how long and
lingeringly I gazed over the guard, looking down at the blue,
dolphin-like waves. All the day, whilst others lounged and talked, I was
looking at those same curling, frothy billows, making, in my own mind,
fifty fantastic comparisons, which then appeared to me very brilliant,
but, since I have learned to think differently. Truly, the foam has died
on the wave.

When night came on, wrapped in her sombre purple, yet glittering with a
cuirass of stars and a helmet of planets, the waters sparkled and danced
with a fairy-like beauty, and I thought I had never beheld anything half
so ecstatic! There was none on that crowded steamer who dreamed of the
glory that was nestling, like a thing of love, deep and close down in
the poor slave’s breast!

To those who surrounded me, this was but an ordinary sight; to me it was
one of strange, unimagined loveliness. I was careful however, to
disguise my emotions. I would have given worlds (had I been their
possessor) to speak my joy in one wild word, or to shout it forth in a
single cry.

This pleasure, like all others, found its speedy end. The next morning,
about ten o’clock, we landed in L–, a city of some commercial
consequence in the West. Indeed, by old residents of the interior of
Kentucky, it is regarded as “_the city_.” I have often since thought of
my first landing there; of its dusty, dirty coal-besmoked appearance; of
its hedge of drays, its knots of garrulous and noisy drivers, and then
the line of dusky warehouses, storage rooms, &c. All this instantly
rises to my mind when I hear that growing city spoken of.

Mr. Summerville engaged one of the neatest-looking coaches at the wharf;
and into it Miss Jane, baggage and servant were unceremoniously hurried.
I had not the privilege and scarcely the wish to look out of the
coach-window, yet, from my crowded and uncomfortable position, I could
catch a sight of an occasional ambitious barber’s pole, or myriad-tinted
chemists’ bottles; all these, be it remembered, were novelties to me,
who had never been ten miles from Mr. Peterkin’s farm. At length the
driver drew a halt at the G—- House, as Mr. Summerville had directed,
and, at this palatial-looking building Mr. Summerville had taken
quarters. How well I recollect its wide hall, its gothic entrance and
hospitable-looking vestibule! The cane-colored floor cloth,
corresponding with the oaken walls struck me as the harmonious design of
an artistic mind.

For a few moments only was Miss Jane left in the neat reception-room,
when a nice-looking mulatto man entered, and, in a low, gentlemanly
tone, informed her that her room was ready. Taking the basket and
portmanteau from me, he politely requested that we would follow him to
room No. 225. Through winding corridors and interminable galleries, he
conducted us, until, at last, we reached it. Drawing a key from his
pocket, he applied it to the lock, and bade Miss Jane enter. She was
much pleased with the arrangement of the furniture, the adjustment of
the drapery, &c.

The floor was covered with a beautiful green velvet carpet, torn bouquet
pattern, whilst the design of the rug was one that well harmonized with
the disposition of the present tenant. It was a wild tiger reposing in
his native jungle.

After Miss Jane had made an elaborate toilette, she told me, as a great
favor, she would allow me to go down stairs, or walk through the halls
for recreation, as she had no further use for me.

I wandered about, passing many rooms, all numbered in gilt figures. The
most of them had their doors open, and I amused myself watching the
different expressions of face and manners of their occupants. This had
always been a habit of mine, for the indulgence of which, however, I had
had but little opportunity.

I strayed on till I reached the parlors, and they burst upon me with the
necromantic power of Aladdin’s hall. A continuity of four apartments
rolled away into a seeming mist, and the adroit position of a mirror
multiplied their number and added greatly to the gorgeous effect. There
were purple and golden curtains, with their many tinsel ornaments;
carpets of the gayest style, from the richest looms. “Etruscan vases,
quaint and old” adorned the mantel-shelf, and easy divans and lounges of
mosaic-velvet were ranged tastefully around. An arcade, with its stately
pillars, divided two of the rooms, and the inter-columniations were
ornamented with statues and statuettes; and upon a marble table, in the
centre of one of the apartments, was a blooming magnolia, the first one
I had ever seen! That strange and mysterious odor, that, like a fine,
inner, sub-sense, pervades the nerve with a quickening power, stole over
me! I stood before the flower in a sort of delicious, delirious joy.
There, with its huge fan-like leaves of green, this pure white blossom,
queen of all the tribe of flowers, shed its glorious perfume and
unfolded its mysterious beauty. It seemed that a new life was opening
upon me. Surely, I said, this _is_ fairy land. For more than an hour I
lingered beside that splendid magnolia, vainly essaying to drink in its
glory and its mystery.

Miss Jane and Mr. Summerville had gone out to take a drive over the
city, and I was comparatively free, in their absence, to go
whithersoever I pleased.

Whilst I still loitered near the flower, a very sweet but manly voice
asked:

“Do you love flowers?”

I turned hastily, and to my surprise, beheld a fine-looking gentleman
standing in close contiguity to me. With pleasure I think now of his
broad, open face, written all over with love and kindness; his deep,
fervid blue eye, that wore such a gentle expression; and the scant, yet
fair hair that rolled away from his magnificent forehead! He appeared to
be slightly upwards of fifty; but I am sure from his face, that those
fifty years had been most nobly spent.

I trembled as I replied:

“Yes, I am very fond of flowers.”

He noticed my embarrassment, and smiled most benignantly.

“Did you ever see a magnolia before?”

“Is this a magnolia?” I inquired, pointing to the luxurious flower.

“Yes, and one of the finest I ever saw. It belongs to the South. Are you
sure you never saw one before?” He fixed his eyes inquiringly upon me as
I answered:

“Oh, quite sure, sir; I never was ten miles from my master’s farm in my
life.”

“You are a slave?”

“Yes, sir, I am.”

He waited a moment, then said:

“Are you happy?”

I dared not tell a falsehood, yet to have truly stated my feelings,
would have been dangerous; so I evasively replied:

“Yes, as much so as most slaves.”

I thought I heard him sigh, as he slowly moved away.

My eyes followed him with inquiring wonder. Who could he be? Certain I
was that no malice had prompted the question he had asked me. The
circumstance created anxiety in my mind. All that day as I walked about,
or waited on Miss Jane, that stranger’s faces shone like a new-risen
moon upon my darkened heart. Had I found, accidentally, one of those
Northern Abolitionists, about whom I had heard so much? Often after when
sent upon errands for my mistress, I met him in the halls, and he always
gave me a kind smile and a friendly salutation. Once Miss Jane observed
this, and instantly accused me of having a dishonorable acquaintance
with him. My honor was a thing that I had always guarded with the utmost
vigilance, and to such a serious charge I perhaps made some hasty reply,
whereupon Miss Jane seized a riding-whip, and cut me most severely
across the face, leaving an ugly mark, a trace of which I still bear,
and suppose I shall carry to my grave. Mr. Summerville expostulated with
his wife, saying that it was better to use gentle means at first.

“No, husband,” (she always thus addressed him,) “I know more about the
management of _niggers_ than you do.”

This gross pronunciation of the word negro has a popular use even among
the upper and educated classes of Kentucky. I am at a loss to account
for it, in any other way than by supposing that they use it to express
their deepest contempt.

Mr. Summerville was rather disposed to be humane to his servants. He was
no advocate of the rod; he used to term it the relic of barbarism. He
preferred selling a refractory servant to whipping him. This did not
accord particularly well with Miss Jane’s views, and the consequence was
they had many a little private argument that did not promise to end
well.

Miss Jane made many acquaintances among the boarders in the hotel, with
whom she was much pleased. She had frequent invitations to attend the
theatre, concerts, and even parties. Many of the fashionables of the
city called upon her, offering, in true Kentucky style, the
hospitalities of their mansions. With this she was quite delighted, and
her new life became one of intense interest and gratification, as her
letters to her sister proved.

She would often regret Tildy was not there to share in her delight; but
it had been considered best for her to remain at the old homestead until
some arrangement could be made about the division of the estate. Two of
the neighbors, a gentleman and his wife, took up their abode with her;
but she expected to visit the city so soon as Miss Jane went to
house-keeping, which would be in a few months. Miss Jane was frequently
out spending social days and evenings with her friends, thus giving me
the opportunity of going about more than I had ever done through the
house. In this way I formed a pleasant acquaintance with several of the
chambermaids, colored girls and free. Friendships thus grew up which
have lasted ever since, and will continue, I trust, until death closes
over us. One of the girls, Louise, a half-breed, was an especial
favorite. She had read some, and was tolerably well educated. From her I
often borrowed interesting books, compends of history, bible-stories,
poems, &c. I also became a furious reader of newspapers, thus picking
up, occasionally, much useful information. Louise introduced me,
formally, to the head steward, an intelligent mulatto man, named Henry,
of most prepossessing appearance; but the shadow of a great grief lurked
in the full look of his large dark eye! “I am a slave, God help me!”
seemed stamped upon his face; ’twas but seldom that I saw him smile, and
then it was so like the reflection of a tear, that it pained me full as
much as his sigh. He had access to the gentlemen’s reading-room; and
through him I often had the opportunity of reading the leading
Anti-slavery journals. With what avidity I devoured them! How full they
were of the noblest philanthropy! Great exponents of real liberty! at
the words of your argument my heart leaped like a new-fledged bird!
Still pour forth your burning eloquence; it will yet blaze like a
watchfire on the Mount of Liberty! The gladness, the hope, the faith it
imparted to my long-bowed heart, would, I am sure, give joy to those
noble leaders of the great cause.

One day, when Miss Jane and Mr. Summerville had gone out at an early
hour to spend the entire day, I little knew what to do with myself as I
had no books nor papers to read, and Louise had business that took her
out of the house.

The day was unusually soft and pleasant. I wandered through the halls,
and, drawing near a private gallery that ran along in front of the
gentlemen’s room, I paused to look at a large picture of an English
fox-chase, that adorned the wall. Whilst examining its rare and peculiar
beauties, my ear was pleasantly struck by the sound of a much-esteemed
voice, saying–

“Well, very well! Let us take seats here, in this retired place, and
begin the conversation we have been threatening so long.”

I glanced out at the crevice of the partially open door, and distinctly
recognized the gentleman who had spoken to me of the magnolia, and who
(I had learned) was James Trueman, of Boston, a man of high standing and
social position, and a successful practitioner of law in his native
State.

The other was a gentleman from Virginia, one of the very first families
(there are no second, I believe), by the name of Winston, a man reputed
of very vast possessions, a land-holder, and an extensive owner of
slaves. I had frequently observed him in company with Mr. Trueman, and
had inquired of Henry who and what he was.

I felt a little reluctant to remain in my position and hear this
conversation, not designed for me; yet a singular impulse urged me to
remain. I felt (and I scarce know why) that it had a bearing upon the
great moral and social question that so agitated the country. Whilst I
was debating with myself about the propriety of a retreat, I caught a
few words, which determined me to stay and hear what I believed would
prove an interesting discussion.

“Let us, my dear Mr. Winston,” began Mr. Trueman, “indulge for a few
moments in a conversation upon this momentous subject. Both of us have
passed that time of life when the ardor and impetuosity of youthful
blood might unfit us for such a discussion, and we may say what we
please on this vexed question with the distinct understanding, that
however offensive our language may become, it will be regarded as
_general_, neither meant nor understood to have any application to
ourselves.”

“I am quite willing and ready to converse as you propose,” replied the
other, in a quick, unpleasant tone, “and I gladly accept the terms
suggested, in which you only anticipate my design. It is well to agree
upon such restraint; for though, as you remind me, our advancing years
have taken much of the fervor from our blood, and left us calm, sober,
thoughtful men, the agitating nature of the subject and the deep
interest which both of us feel in it, should put us on our guard. If,
then, during the progress of the conversation, either of us shall be
unduly excited, let the recollection of the conditions upon which we
engage in it, recall him to his accustomed good-humor.”

“Well, we have settled the preliminaries without difficulty, and to
mutual satisfaction. And now, the way being clear, our discussion may
proceed. I assume, then, in the outset, that the institution of slavery,
as it exists in the South, is a monstrous evil. I assume this
proposition; not alone because it is the universal sentiment of the
‘rest of mankind;’ but also, because it is now very generally conceded
by slave-holders themselves.”

“Pray, where did you learn that slave-holders ever made such a
concession? As to what may be the sentiment of the ‘rest of mankind,’ I
may speak by-and-bye. For the present, my concern is with the opinion of
that large slave-holding class to which I belong. I am extensively
acquainted among them, and if that is their opinion of our peculiar
institution, I am entirely ignorant of it.”

“Your ignorance,” said Mr. Trueman, with a smile, “in that regard, while
it by no means disproves my proposition, may be easily explained. With
your neighbors, who feel like yourself the dread responsibility of this
crying abomination, it is not pleasant, perhaps, to talk upon it, and
you avoid doing so without the slightest trouble; because you have other
and more engaging topics, such as the condition of your farms, the
prospect of fine crops, and all the ‘changes of the varying year.’ But,
read the declarations of your chosen Representatives, the favorite sons
of the South, in the high councils of our nation; and you will discover,
that in all the debates involving it, slavery, in itself, and in its
consequences, is frankly admitted to be a tremendous evil.”

“Our Representatives may have sometimes thought proper to make such an
admission to appease the fanaticism of Northern Abolitionists, and to
quiet the agitations of the country in the spirit of generous
compromise: but _I_ am not bound to make it, and _I will not make it_.
Neither do I avoid conversations with my neighbors upon the subject of
slavery from the motive you intimate, nor from any other motive. I have
frequently talked with them upon it, boldly and candidly, as I am
prepared to talk to you or any reasonable man. Your proposition I
positively deny, and can quickly refute.” I thought there was a little
anger in the tone in which he said this; but no excitement was
discernible in the clear, calm voice with which Mr. Trueman answered–

“Independently of the admission of your Representatives, which, I think,
ought to bind you (for you must have been aware of it, and since it was
public and undisputed, your acquiescence might be fairly presumed),
there are many considerations that establish the truth of my position.
But I cannot indorse your harsh reflection upon the Representatives of
your choice. I cannot believe them capable of admitting, for any
purpose, a proposition which, in their opinion and that of their
constituents, asserts a falsehood. The immortal Henry Clay and such men
as he are responsible for the admission, and not one of them was ever so
timid as to be under the dominion of fear, or so dishonest as to be
hypocritical.”

A moment’s pause ensued, when Mr. Winston appeared to rally, and said,

“I do not understand, then, if that was their real opinion, how it was
possible for them to continue to hold slaves. To say the least of it,
their practice was not in accordance with their theory. Hence I said,
that under certain circumstances and to serve a special purpose, they
may have conceded slavery to be an evil. For my own part, if I were
persuaded that this proposition is true, it would constrain me to
liberate all my slaves, whatever may be my attachment to them or the
loss I should necessarily suffer. Some of them have been acquired by
purchase; others by inheritance: all of them seem satisfied with their
treatment upon my estate; yet nothing could induce me to claim the
property I have hitherto thought I possessed in them, when convinced of
the evil which your proposition asserts.”

“Nothing could be fairer, my dear Mr. Winston. Your conviction will
doubtless subject you to immense sacrifices: but these will only enhance
your real worth as a man, and I am sure you will make them without
hesitation, though it may be, not without reluctance. Now, it is a
principle of law, well settled, that no person can in any manner convey
a title, even to those things which are property, greater than that
which he rightfully possesses. If, for instance, I acquire, by theft or
otherwise, unlawful possession of your watch or other articles of value,
which is transferred, by the operation of purchase and sale, through
many hands, your right never ceases; and the process of law will enable
you to obtain possession. Each individual who purchased the article, may
have his remedy against him from whom he procured it, however extended
the series of purchasers: but, since whatever right any one of them has
was derived originally from me, and since my unlawful acquisition
conferred no right at all, it follows that none was transmitted.
Consequently, you were not divested, and the just spirit of law,
continuing to recognize your property in the article whenever found,
provides the ready means whereby you may reduce it once more to
possession. This principle of law is not peculiar to a single locality;
it enters into the remedial code of all civilized countries. Its
benefits are accessible to the free negro in this land of the dark
Southern border; and, I trust, it will not be long before those who are
now held in slavery may be embraced in its beneficent operation. Whether
it is recognized internationally, I am not fully prepared to say; but it
ought to be, if it is not, for it is the dictate of equity and common
sense. But, upon the hypothesis that it is so recognized, if the
property of an inhabitant of Africa were stolen from him by a citizen of
the United States, he might recover it. As for those people who, in the
Southern States, are held as slaves, they or their ancestors came here
originally not by their own choice, but by compulsion, from distant
Africa. You will hardly deny, I presume, what is, historically, so
evident–that “they were captured,” as the phrase is, or, in our honest
vernacular, _stolen_ and brought by violence from their native homes.
Had they been the proper subjects of property, what could prevent the
application of the principle I have quoted?”

After two or three hems and haws, Mr. Winston began:

“I have never inquired particularly into the matter; but have always
entertained the impression which pervades the Southern mind, that our
negroes are legitimately our slaves, in pursuance of the malediction
denounced by God against Ham and his descendants, of whom they are a
part. And, so thinking, I believed we were entitled to the same right to
them which we exercise over the beasts of the field, the fowls of the
air, and the fishes of the deep. Moreover, your principle of law, which
is indeed very correct, is inapplicable to their case. There is also a
principle in the law of my State, incapacitating slaves to hold
property. They are property themselves; and property cannot hold
property. Apart from the terrible curse, which doomed them in the
beginning, they were slaves in their own country to men of their own
race; slaves by right of conquest. Therefore, taking the instance you
have suggested, by way of illustration, were any article of value
wrested from their possession, under this additional principle, the law
could not give them any redress. But, inasmuch as whatever they may
acquire becomes immediately the property of their master, to him the law
will furnish a remedy.”

“You do not deny,” and here Mr. Trueman’s tone was elevated and a little
excited, “that the first of those who reached this country were stolen
in Africa. Now, for the sake of the argument merely, I will admit that
they were slaves at home. If they were slaves at home–it matters not
whether by ‘right or conquest,’ or ‘in pursuance of _the curse_,’ they
must have been the property of somebody, and those who stole them and
sold them into bondage in America could give no valid title to their
purchasers; for by the theft they had acquired none themselves. Hence,
if ever they were slaves, they are still the property of their masters
in Africa; but, if your interpretation of “the curse” is correct, those
masters were also slaves, and, being such, under the principle of law
which you have quoted, they could not for this reason hold property.
Therefore, those oppressed and outraged, though benighted people, who
were first sold into slavery, to the eternal disgrace of our land, were,
in sheer justice, either _free_, or the property–even after the
sale–of their African masters, if they had any; in neither case could
they belong to those of our citizens who were unfortunate enough to buy
them. They were not slaves of African masters: for, according to your
argument, all of the race are slaves, and slaves cannot own slaves any
more than horses can own horses; therefore, since no other people
claimed dominion over them, they were, necessarily, free. You cannot
escape from this dilemma, and the choice of either horn is fatal to your
cause. Being free, might they not have held property like other
nations? And, had any of it been stolen from them by those who are
amenable to our laws, would not consistency compel us, who recognize the
just principle I have quoted, to restore it to them? This is the course
pursued among ourselves; and it ceases not with restoration; but on the
offender it proceeds to inflict punishment, to prevent a repetition of
the offence. This is the course we should pursue toward that
down-trodden race whose greatest guilt is ‘a skin not colored like our
own.’

“As the case stands, it is not a question of property, but of that more
valuable and sacred right, the right of _personal liberty_, of which we
now boast so loudly. What, in the estimation of the world, is the worth
of those multitudinous orations, apostrophies to liberty, which, on each
recurring Fourth of July, in whatever quarter of the globe Americans may
be assembled, penetrate the public ear? What are they worth to us, if,
while reminding us of early colonial and revolutionary struggles against
the galling tyranny of the British crown, they fail to inculcate the
easy lesson of respect for the rights of all mankind? In keeping those
poor Africans in the South still enslaved, you practically ignore this
lesson, and you trample with unholy feet that divine ordinance which
commands you ‘to do unto others as you would have others do unto you.’
By the oppression to which we were subjected under the yoke of Britain,
and against which we wrestled so long, so patiently, so vigorously, in
so many ways, and at last so triumphantly, I adjure you to put an end,
at once and forever, to this business of holding slaves. This is
oppression indeed, in comparison with which, that which drew forth our
angry and bitter complaints, was very freedom. Let us, instead of
perpetuating this infamous institution, be true to ourselves; let us
vindicate the pretensions we set up when we characterize ours as ‘the
land of liberty, the asylum of the oppressed,’ by proclaiming to the
nations of the earth that, so soon as a slave touches the soil of
America, his manacles shall fall from him: let us verify the words
engraven in enduring brass on the old bell which from the tower of
Independence Hall rang out our glorious Declaration, and in deed and in
truth proclaim ‘Liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison
doors to them that are bound.’ As you value truth, honor, justice,
consistency, aye, humanity even, wipe out the black blot which defiles
the border of our escutcheon, and the country will then be in reality
what is now only in name, a _free_ country, loving liberty
disinterestedly for its own sake, and for that of all people, and
nations, and tribes, and tongues.

“You may still, if you choose, dispute and philosophize about the
inequality of races, and continue to insist on the boasted superiority
of _our_ Caucasian blood; but the greatest disadvantages which a
comparison can indicate will not prove that one’s claim to liberty is
higher than another’s. It may be that we of the white race, are vastly
superior to our African brethren. The differences, however, are not
flattering to us; for we should remember with shame and confusion of
face, that our injustice and cruelty have produced them. Having first
enslaved the poor Africans and subsequently withheld from them every
means of improvement, it is not strange that such differences should
exist as those on which we plume ourselves. But is it not intolerable
that we should now quote them with such brazen self-gratulation?

“Despite the manifold disadvantages that encumber and clog the movements
of the Africans, unfortunately for the validity of your argument their
race exhibits many proud specimens to prove their capability of culture,
and of the enjoyment of freedom. Give them but the same opportunities
that we have, and they will rival us in learning, refinement,
statesmanship, and general demeanor, as is incontestibly shown in the
lives and characters of many now living. Such men as Fred Douglas and
President Roberts, would honor any complexion; or, I ought rather to
say, should make us forget and despise the distinctions of color, since
they reach not below the surface of the skin, nor affect, in the least,
that better part that gives to man all his dignity and worth. Nor need I
point to these illustrious examples to rebut the inferences you deduce
from color. Every village and hamlet in your own sunny South, can
furnish an abundant refutation, in its obscure but eloquent ‘colored
preachers’–noble patterns of industry and wisdom, who show forth, by
their exemplary bearing, all the beauty of holiness,–‘allure to
brighter worlds and lead the way.'”

It is impossible to furnish even the faintest description of the
pleading earnestness of the speaker’s tone. His full, round, rich voice,
grew intense, low and silvery in its harmonious utterance. As he
pronounced the last sentence, it was with difficulty I could repress a
cry of applause. Oh, surely, surely, I thought, our cause, the African’s
cause, is not helpless, is not lost, whilst it still possesses such an
advocate. My eyes overflowed with grateful tears, and I longed to kiss
the hem of his garment.

“You forget,” answered Mr. Winston, “or you would do well to consider,
that these cases are exceptional cases, which neither preclude my
inferences nor warrant your assumption.”

“Exceptions, indeed, they are; but why?” inquired Mr. Trueman.
“Exceptions, you know, prove the rule. Now, you infer from the sooty
complexion of the Africans, a natural and necessary incapacity for the
blessings of self-government and the refinements of education. I have
mentioned individuals of this fatal complexion who are in the wise
enjoyment of these sublime privileges: one of them has acquired an
enviable celebrity as an orator, the other is the accomplished President
of the infant Liberian Republic. If color incapacitated, as you seem to
think, it would affect all alike; but it has not incapacitated these,
therefore it does not incapacitate at all. These are exceptions not to
the general _capacity_ of the blacks, but only to their general
opportunity. What they have done others may do–the opportunities being
equal.”

“I have listened to you entire argument,” rejoined Mr. Winston, “very
patiently, with the expectation of hearing the proposition sustained
with which you so vauntingly set out. You will, perhaps, accord to me
the credit of being–what in this age of ceaseless talk is rarely
met–‘a good listener.’ But, after all my patience and attention, I am
still unsatisfied–if not unshaken. You have failed to meet the
argument drawn from the ‘curse’ pronounced on the progenitors of the
unfortunate race: you have failed to present or notice what is generally
considered by theologians and moralists the right of a purchaser–in
your illustration from stolen goods–to something for the money with
which he parts; and here, I think, you manifested great unfairness; and,
above all, you have failed to propose any feasible remedy for the state
of things against which you inveigh. What have you to say on these
material points?”

“Very much, my good sir, as you will find, if, instead of taking
advantage of every momentary pause to make out such a ‘failure’ as you
desire, you only prolong your very complimentary patience. I wish you to
watch the argument narrowly; to expose the faintest flaw you can detect
in it; and, at the end, if unsatisfied, cry out ‘failure,’ or let it
wring from you a reluctant confession. You will, at least, before I
shall have done, withdraw the illiberal imputation of unfairness. It
would be an easy task for me to anticipate all you can say, and to
refute it; but such a course would leave you nothing to say, and, since
I intend this discussion to be strictly a conversation, I shall leave
you at liberty to present your own arguments in your own way. Now, as to
the argument from ‘the curse,’ you must permit me to observe, that your
interpretation is too free and latitudinarian. Mine is more literal,
more in accordance with the character of God; it fully satisfies the
Divine vengeance, and, whether correct or not, has, at least, as much
authority in its favor. Granting the dominion of the white over the
black race to be in virtue of ‘the curse,’ it by no means conveys such
power as your Southern institution seeks to justify. The word _slave_
nowhere occurs in that memorable malediction; but there is an obvious
distinction between _its_ import and that of the word _servant_, which
it _does_ employ. Surely, for the offence of looking upon the nakedness
of his father, Ham could not have incurred and entailed upon his
posterity a heavier punishment than they would necessarily suffer as
the simple servants of their brethren. And this consideration should
induce you to give them, at least, the same share of freedom as is
enjoyed by the _white servants_ to be found in many a household in the
South. Such servitude would be the utmost that a merciful God could
require. Even this, however, was under the old dispensation; and the
reign of its laws, customs, and punishments, should melt under the
genial rays of the sun of Christianity. Many of your own patriots,
headed by Washington and Jefferson, have long since thought so; and but
few in these days plead ‘the curse’ as excuse or justification for that
‘damned spot’ which all will come ultimately to consider the disgrace of
this enlightened age and nation. As to your next point, the right which
a purchaser of stolen goods may acquire in them in consideration of the
money which he pays, I grant all the benefit that even the most generous
theologian or moralist can allow in the best circumstances of such a
case. And what does this amount to? A return of the purchase-money, with
a reasonable or very high rate of interest for the detention, would be
as much as any one could demand. Applying this to the case of the stolen
Africans, how many of those who were forced from their native land to
this have died on their master’s hands without yielding by their labor,
not alone the principal, but a handsome percentage upon the money
invested in their purchase? Thus purchasers were indemnified–abundantly
indemnified, against loss. The indemnity, however, should have been
sought from the seller, not from the article or person sold. But, at
best, purchasers of stolen goods, to entitle themselves to any
indemnity, should at least be innocent; for if they buy such goods,
_knowing them to be stolen_, they are guilty of a serious misdemeanor,
which is everywhere punishable under the law. ‘He who asks equity must
do equity.’ When, therefore, you of the South would realize the benefit
of the concession of theologians and moralists–the benefit of
justice–you should bring yourselves within the conditions they require;
you should come into court with clean hands, and with the intention of
acting in good faith. Have you done so? Did your fathers do so before
you? Not at all. They were not ignorant purchasers of the poor, ravished
African; they knew full well that he had been stolen and brought by
violence from his distant home: consequently, they were guilty of a
misdemeanor in purchasing; consequently, too, they come not within the
case proposed by the theologians and moralists, which might entitle them
to indemnity; nor were they in a condition to ask it. The present
generation, claiming through them, find themselves in the same
predicament, with the same title only, and the same unclean hands,
perpetuating their foul oppression. None of them, as I have shown, had a
right to claim indemnity by reason of having invested their money in
that way; and, if they ever had such right, they have been richly
indemnified already. Therefore, it is absurd for you to continue the
slave business upon this plea. Having thus answered your only objections
to my position, I might remind you of your determination, and call upon
you to ‘liberate your slaves,’ and take sides with me in opposition to
the cruel institution. You are greatly mistaken in supposing that my
omission to propose a plan, by which slave-holders could _conveniently,
and without pecuniary loss_, emancipate their slaves, constitutes the
slightest objection to the argument I have advanced. If you defer their
emancipation until such a plan is proposed; if you are unwilling to
incur even a little sacrifice, what nobility will there be in the act,
to entitle you to the consideration of the just and good, or to the
approval of your own consciences? I sought by this discussion, to
convince you that slavery is an enormous evil; the proposition was
declared in all its boldness. You volunteered a pledge to release your
slaves if I could sustain it, let the sacrifice be what it might. Some
sacrifice, then, you must have anticipated; and, should your conviction
now demand it, you have no cause to complain of me. Your pledge was
altogether voluntary; I did not even ask it; nor did I design to suggest
any such plan of universal emancipation as would suit the _convenience_
of everybody. I am not so extravagantly silly as to hope to do that.
But, after all, why wait for a _plan_? Immediate, universal
emancipation is not impracticable, and numberless methods might and
would at once be devised, if the people of your States were sincere when
they profess to desire its accomplishment. Their _real_ wish, however,
whatever it may be, need not interfere between your individual pledge,
and its prompt fulfilment.”

Mr. Trueman paused for full five minutes, and, as I peered out from my
hiding-place, I thought there was a very quizzical sort of expression on
his fine face.

“Well, what have you to say?” he at length asked.

“It seems to me,” Mr. Winston began, in an angry tone, “you speak very
flippantly and very wildly about general emancipation. Consider, sir,
that slavery is so woven into our society, that there is scarcely a
family that would not be more or less affected by a change. Fundamental
alterations in society, to be safely made, must be the slow work of
years:

‘Not the hasty product of a day,
But the well-ripened fruit of wise delay.’

So it is only by almost imperceptible degrees that the emancipationists
and impertinent Abolitionists can ever attain ‘the consummation’ they
pretend to have so much at heart. If they would just stay at home and
devote their spare time to cleansing their own garments, leaving us of
the South to suffer alone what they are pleased to esteem the evil and
sin and curse, the shame, burden and abomination of slavery, we should
the sooner discover its blasting enormities, and strive more zealously
to abolish them and the institution from which they proceed. Their
super-serviceable interference, hitherto, has only riveted and tightened
the bondage of those with whom they sympathize; and such a result will
always attend it. Our slaves, as at present situated, are very well
satisfied, as, indeed, they ought to be: for they are exempt from the
anxious cares of the free, as to what they shall eat or what they shall
drink, or wherewithal they shall be clothed. Many poor men of our own
color would gladly exchange conditions with them, because they find life
to be a hard, an incessant struggle for the scantiest comforts, with
which our slaves are supplied at no cost of personal solicitude.
Besides, sir, our institution of slavery is vastly more burdensome to
ourselves than to the negroes for whom you affect so much fraternal
love.”

“One would suppose, that if you thought it burdensome, you would be
making some effort to relieve yourselves,” interposed Mr. Trueman, in
that clear and pointed manner that was his peculiarity; “and, if
immediate emancipation were deemed impracticable in consequence of the
radical hold which this institution has at the South, you might
naturally be expected to be doing something toward that end by the
encouragement of education among those in bondage, by the sanction of
marriage ties between them, and by other efforts to ameliorate their
condition. Certain inducements might be presented for the manumission of
slaves by individual owners, for there are some of this class, I am
happy to think, who, in tender humanity, would release their slaves, if
the stringency of the laws did not deter them from it. Would it not be
well to abate somewhat of this rigor, and allow all slaves, voluntarily
manumitted, to remain in the several States with at least the privileges
of the free negroes now resident therein, so that the olden ties, which
have grown up between themselves and their owners, might not be abruptly
snapped asunder? Besides, to enforce the propriety of this alteration of
the law, it would be well to reflect that the South is the native home
of most of the slaves, who cherish their local attachments quite as much
as ourselves; and hence the law which now requires them, when by any
means they have obtained their freedom, to remove beyond the limits of
the State, is a very serious hardship and should cease to exist. This
would be a long stride toward your own relief from the burden of which
you complain. As to the slaves, who you think should be content with
their condition, in which they have, as you say, ‘no care for necessary
food and raiment,’ I would suggest that they have the faculty of
distinguishing between slavery and bondage, and have sense enough to see
that though these things, which are generally of the coarsest kind, are
provided by their masters, the means by which they are furnished are but
a scanty portion of their own hard earnings. Were they free, they could
work in the same way, and be entitled to _all_ the fruits of their
labor. Then they would have the same inducements to toil that we now
have, and the same ambition to lift themselves higher and higher in the
social scale. Those white men whom you believe willing to exchange
situations with them, are too indolent to enjoy the privileges of
freedom, and would be utterly worthless as slaves. You declaim against
the course which the Abolitionists have pursued, and seem disposed, in
consequence, to tighten the cords of servitude. You would be let alone,
forsooth, to bear this burden as long as you please, and to get rid of
it at pleasure. So long as there was any hope that you would do what you
ought in the matter, you were let alone, and if you were the only
sufferers from your peculiar institution, you might continue
undisturbed; but the yoke lies heavy and galling upon the poor slaves
themselves, whose voices are stifled, and it is high time for the
friends of human rights to speak in their behalf, till they make
themselves heard. At this momentous period, when new States and
Territories are knocking for admission at the doors of our Union–States
and Territories of free and virgin soil, which you are seeking to defile
by the introduction of slavery–it is fit that they should persevere in
their noble efforts, that they should resist your endeavors, and strive
with all their energies to confine the obnoxious institution within its
already too-extended bounds; for they know, that, if they would attain
their object–the ultimate and entire abolition of slavery from our
land–they should oppose strenuously every movement tending to its
extension; for, the broader the surface over which it spreads, the more
formidable will be the difficulty of its removal. Therefore it is that
they are now so zealously engaged, and they address you as men whose
‘judgment has not fled to brutish beasts,’ with arguments against the
evil itself and the weight of anguish it entails. Thus they have ever
done, and you tell me that the result has been to rivet the chains of
those in whose behalf they plead. As well might the sinner, whose guilt
is pointed out to him by the minister of God, resolve for that very
reason to plunge more deeply into sin.”

His voice became gradually calmer and calmer, until finally it sank into
the low notes of a solemn half-whisper. I held my breath in intense
excitement, but this transport was broken by the harsh tones of the
Virginian, who said:

“All this is very ridiculous as well as unjust; for, at the South slaves
are regarded as property, and, inasmuch as our territories are acquired
by the common blood and treasure of the whole country, we have as much
right to locate in them with our property as you have with any of those
things which are recognized as property at the North. In your great love
of human rights you might take some thought of us; but the secret of
your action is jealousy of our advancement by the aid of slave-labor,
which you would have at the North if you needed it. We understand you
well, and we are heartily tired of your insulting and impudent cant
about the evils of the system of slavery. We want no more of it.”

Mr. Trueman, without noticing the insolence of Winston, continued in the
same impressive manner:

“We do take much thought of you at the South, and hence it is that we
dislike to see you passively submitting to the continuance of an
institution so fraught with evil in itself, and very burdensome, as even
you have admitted. We, of the North, feel strongly bound to you by the
recollection of common dangers, struggles and trials; and, with an
honorable pride, we wish our whole nation to stand fair, and, so far as
possible, blameless before the world. We are doing all we can to remove
the evils of every kind which exist at the North; and, as we are not
sectional in our purposes, we would stimulate you to necessary action in
regard to your especial system. We know its evils from sore experience,
for it once prevailed amongst us; but, fortunately, we opened our eyes,
and gave ourselves a blessed riddance of it. The example is well worthy
of your imitation, but, ‘pleased as you are with the possession’, says
Blackstone, speaking of the origin and growth of property, ‘you seem
afraid to look back to the means by which it was acquired, as if fearful
of some defect in your title; or, at best, you rest satisfied with the
decision of the laws in your favor, without examining the reason or
authority upon which those laws have been built.’ To the eyes of the
nations, who regard us from far across the ocean, and who see us, as a
body, better than we see ourselves, slavery is the great blot that
obscures the disc of our Republic, dimming the effulgence of its
Southern half, as a partial eclipse darkens the world’s glorious
luminary. It is, therefore, not alone upon the score of human rights in
general, but from a personal interest in our National character, that
the Abolitionists interfere. Various Congressional enactments have
confirmed the justice of these views, which they are endeavoring to
enforce by moral suasion (for they deprecate violence) upon the South.
Those enactments assume jurisdiction, to some extent at least, upon the
subject of slavery, having gone so far as to prohibit the continuance of
the slave-trade, denouncing it as piracy, and punishing with death those
who are in any way engaged in it. I have yet to learn that the South has
ever protested against this law, in which the Abolitionists see a strong
confirmation of their own just principles. Why should they not go a step
further, and forbid all traffic in slaves, such as is pursued among your
people? Why do not the States themselves interpose their power to put
down at once and forever, such nefarious business? This would be
productive of vastly more good than anything which Colonization
societies can effect.”

“Suppose, sir,” began Mr. Winston, “we were to annul the present laws
regulating the manumission of slaves, and to abolish the institution
entirely from our midst; where would be the safety of our own white
race? There is great cause for the apprehension generally entertained,
of perpetual danger and annoyance, if they were permitted to remain
among us. They are there in large numbers, and, having once obtained
their freedom, with permission to reside where they now are, they would
seek to become ‘a power in the State,’ which would incite them, if
resisted, into fearful rebellion. These are contingencies which
sagacious statesmen have foreseen, and which they would be unable to
avert. Consequently, they had rather bear those ills they have, than fly
to others that they know not of.”

“How infelicitous,” Mr. Trueman suddenly retorted, “is your quotation,
for, truly, you ‘know not’ that these anticipated consequences would
ensue; but ‘motes they are to trouble the mind’s eye.’ Your sagacious
statesmen might more wisely employ their thoughts in contemplating the
more probable results of continuing your slaves in their present abject
condition. Far more reason is there to apprehend rebellion and
insurrection now, than the distant dangers you predict. Even this last
objection is vain, unsubstantial, and, at best, only speculative,
resorted to as an unction to mollify the sores of conscience. Some of
your eminent men have expressed a hope that the colored race might be
removed from the South, and from slavery, through the instrumentality of
Colonization, by which, it is expected, that they would eventually be
transported to Africa, and encouraged to establish governments for
themselves. This proposal is liable, and with more emphasis, to the
objection I advanced a while ago, when speaking of the laws which
practically discourage manumission, for, if it is a hardship (as I
contend it is) for them to be driven from their native State to one
strange and unfamiliar to them, it is increasing that severity to
require them to seek a home in Africa, whose climate is as uncongenial
to them as to us, and with whose institutions they feel as little
interest, or identity, as we do. Admit, for a moment, the practicability
of such a scheme. We should, soon after, be called upon to recognize
them as one of the nations of the earth, with whom we should treat as we
do now with the English, French, German, and other nations. I will
suggest to your Southern sages, who delight in speculations, that, in
the progress of years, they might desire, in imitation of some other
people, to accept the invitations we extend to the oppressed and unhappy
of the earth. What is there, in that case, to hinder them from
immigrating in large numbers? Could you distinguish between immigrants
of their class, and those who now settle upon our soil? Either you could
or you could not. If you could not so distinguish, you would in all
likelihood have them speedily back, in greater numbers than they come
from Green Erin, or Fader-land. Thus you would be reduced to almost the
same condition as general emancipation would bring about; but, if you
could, and did make the distinction, is it not quite likely that deadly
offence would be given to their government, which, added to their
already accumulated wrongs, would light up the fires of a more frightful
war than the intestine rebellion you have talked of; or than any that
has ever desolated this continent? Bethink yourselves of these things
amid your gloomy forebodings, and you will find them pregnant with
fearful issues. You will discover, too, the folly of longer maintaining
your burdensome system, and the wisdom of heeding whilst you may, the
counsel of the philanthropic, which urges you to just, generous, speedy,
universal emancipation. But I have fatigued you, and will stop; hoping
soon to hear that you have magnanimously redeemed the promise which I
had the gratification to hear at the commencement of our conversation.”

When Mr. Trueman paused, Mr. Winston sprang to his feet in a rage,
knocking over his chair in the excitement, and declaring that he had
most patiently listened to flimsy Abolition talk, in which there was no
shadow of argument, mere common cant; that he would advise Mr. Trueman
to be more particular in the dissemination of his dangerous and
obnoxious opinions; and, as to his own voluntary pledge, it was
conditional, and those conditions had not been complied with, and he did
not consider himself bound to redeem it. Mr. Trueman endeavored to calm
and soothe the hot-blooded Southerner; but his words had no effect upon
the illiberal man, whom he had so fairly demolished in argument.

As they passed my hiding-place, _en route_ to their respective
apartments, I peeped out through a crevice in the door at them. It was
very easy to detect the calm, self-poised man, the thoughtful reasoner,
in the still, pale face and erect form of Trueman; whilst the red,
hot-flushed countenance, the quick, peering eye and audacious manner of
the other, revealed his unpleasant disposition and unsystematized mind.

When the last echo of their retreating footsteps had died upon the ear,
I stole from my concealment, and ventured to my own quarters. Many new
thoughts sprang into existence in my mind, suggested by the conversation
to which I had listened.

I venerated Mr. Trueman more than ever. No disciple ever regarded the
face of his master so reverently as I watched his countenance, when I
chanced to meet him in any part of the house.

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