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Dicey, Edward. Six Months in the Federal States, Vol. II . London: MacMillan and Co., 1863. [format: book], [genre: travelogue]. Permission: Newberry Library
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The New England Abolitionists.

DURING the early part of June, when I first came to Boston, the Army of the Potomac had advanced beyond York Town, and the North was expecting daily to hear of the capture of Richmond. Towards the middle of June, in the weeks that just preceded the Chickahominy battles, there grew up, for the first time, a feeling of popular anxiety about the issue of the campaign. The national hopes, though they had not yet begun to waver, were not very vivid. Even the New York papers were at their wits' ends to produce sensation paragraphs, and contented themselves with oracular statements, that "a gentleman of intelligence, recently returned from Richmond, was convinced that McClellan's plans must be crowned with ultimate success." The long-suffering patience, I may remark, with which the American people awaited McClellan's action was a remarkable trait of the national character. With the exception of the New York Tribune, and its namesake of Chicago, there was not a paper of any eminence in the North

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which was openly hostile to him. With ten times the provocation, there was not one tithe of the invective poured by the American press on General McClellan for his unaccountable inaction that was heaped by our own newspapers upon Lord Raglan, for the tardiness of his movements in the Crimea. When I first came to America I believed it was impossible that, under a Democratic Government, popular impatience would leave General McClellan a long lease of power, unless he justified his claims by some brilliant action. Further experience showed me that I undervalued the good sense of the people. After the first few months, there never was any great popular enthusiasm about McClellan. It was not likely, indeed, that there should have been any. Throughout the spring, there was a growing conviction that the General commanding-in-chief was not strong enough for his post. An old Democrat, and a political partisan of McClellan's, in speaking to me, at the period of which I write, about his military capacity, remarked, "If McClellan was a great general, we should not be discussing, a year after his appointment, whether he really was so or not." This impression seemed to me, though expressed less openly, to be the prevailing one; and yet there was no public outcry for his recall. The broad sense of the matter was, that to have removed McClellan at this moment, in the midst of the campaign, and in front of the enemy, would have been so great an evil that it could only have

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been wise to incur it if it became clear that the General was not merely relatively but absolutely incapable. There was no evidence as yet that this was the case, and therefore the people were content to wait. Possibly it may seem a paradox to the English reader to talk of the patience of popular government. I can only say, without entering on a theoretical discussion, that taken as a whole, the self-restraint, the moderation, and the patience of the American people in the conduct of this people's war, were in themselves facts worth noting.

The one circumstance, however, which in my belief contributed mainly to keep McClellan in power, was the vehemence with which the Abolitionist party assailed him. It is not that the Commander-in-Chief was popular with the vast majority of the North because he was a pro-slavery General, but there was a general and not ill-founded conviction that the attacks made upon him were due more to his politics than to his strategy; and therefore these attacks did him rather good than harm. Indeed, the position of McClellan threw considerable light on the active want of strength of the Abolitionists. The truth is, that the anti-slavery party had, as it were, two creeds, the exoteric and the esoteric. According to the former, the popular faith, slavery is a great evil, a calamity to any country addicted to it; and, like every other national evil, should, as far as possible, be checked by legislation, and still more by the force of public opinion; but,

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above all, should in no way be promoted by any act of the Government. This is substantially the Republican creed; and owing chiefly to the exertions of the Abolitionists, this Republican creed became practically the creed of the North. But amongst themselves the Abolitionists, purs et simples, have an esoteric creed, more logical perhaps, but less accommodating. With them slavery is an absolute sin — not an evil, but a crime. Slavery being thus in itself a crime, the nation is bound to suppress it at all costs and all dangers; and if that should be found impossible, the nation has no choice but to put away the accursed thing, and to renounce all partnership in the profits of iniquity. This esoteric faith was held by a very small and, I suspect, at the moment, a decreasing party. New England was the head-quarters of the Abolitionists, and yet the outward evidences of their power — I might almost say of their existence — were few indeed. In all Boston, with its shoals of papers, there was not one Abolition daily newspaper. The Courier, the most largely circulated of any Boston paper, reprinted every morning at the head of its articles the resolution passed by the House of Representatives in February, 1861, with a view of averting the danger of Secession: "That neither the Federal Government, nor the people or Governments of the non-slaveholding States, have a purpose or a constitutional right to legislate upon, or interfere with slavery, in any of the States of

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the Union." From this text the Courier preached regularly against the Abolitionists, and especially against Wendell Phillips, whom it pursued with a bitter personal animosity. The Boston Herald, a halfpenny paper, which has a large popular circulation, was still more fiercely anti-Abolitionist. Writing of the gradual emancipation project of President Lincoln, it stated that the scheme "meets with no favour, and is not acceptable to even the Border Slave States. Emancipation, as advocated by Mr. Sumner and others, is condemned by all the States South, and by one half of the public in the Free States." The Post, which was a moderate Republican paper, and is perhaps the best-written and most respectable of American newspapers, used to declaim against bringing forward the question of emancipation at all, till secession was suppressed. Its text was, "that the people everywhere ought to insist that partisanship shall stop, and that congress shall cooperate with the President in the one simple object to restore the national authority." The other daily newspapers in Boston, the Journal, the Traveller, and the Transcript, approach very nearly to Mr. Bright's ideal newspapers, seldom trouble their readers with leading articles, and, when they do, avoid carefully such subjects as Abolition, on which there is likely to be much difference of opinion. The Advetiser, whose circulation and influence are but small, was the most friendly of the Boston journals to the

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Abolition cause, though its friendliness was of a passive rather than of an active kind, and consisted chiefly in abstaining from attack. In all Boston there was not a paper as outspoken on the subject of slavery as the New York Tribune; and though Governor Andrew and Messrs. Sumner and Wilson, the senators of Massachusetts, are pronounced anti-slavery men, there is not a leading newspaper in the Pilgrim State which supports the Abolitionists as a party. The official organ of the anti-slavery public in New England is the Liberator, a weekly newspaper of which Lloyd Garrison is the Editor. I should gather its circulation to be entirely a class one, as I never by any chance saw it offered for sale in the shops or streets. Besides this, there is a paper published in Boston called the Pine and Palm, which is supposed to be addressed to the free negroes. It has the regular tract-newspaper air of the quondam True Briton and the modern Friend of the British Workman; and like every paper in search of a public, has a debilitated tone about it. There has lately been a monthly review published in Boston, the Continental, which is well written, and avowedly Abolitionist in politics; but as yet I should judge its circulation to be extremely small. The Atlantic Monthly, the great New England Review, is very catholic in its politics, staunchly Unionist, and more or less anti-slavery; but still it is decidedly not Abolitionist.

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On the whole, I should say that the tone of Boston society is very like that of the press. To advocate pro-slavery doctrines would be decidedly unfashionable; to advocate immediate abolition would be hardly less so. Moderate anti-slaveryism is obviously the correct thing. Till within the last few years, to avow the Abolition creed in Boston was to exclude yourself from society. A person who openly advocated the voluntary system in a cathedral town, or who spoke against the game laws in a fox-hunting county, would have about as much chance of being well received in the local society as an Abolitionist would have had in Boston. With the "John Brown year," as the report of the Anti-Slavery Society termed the year 1860, a change came. For the first time almost, American Abolitionism emerged from the sentimentalism of the Uncle Tom phase, and became a living fact and a stern reality; and its professors won that respect which society always accords to power. At the present moment, a prominent Abolitionist would be somewhat of a lion in Boston, like a foreign patriot or a renowned spiritualist medium; and it would hardly now as formerly be made an objection to meeting any one at dinner, that he or she was an Abolitionist. Still, even yet the fact of being known to hold anti-slavery opinions is not a pass to society, but, if anything, the contrary. The different religious communions in New England still ignore to a great extent the question of slavery. The Episcopalians

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and the Methodists, the two sects which have the greatest following in the South, have always decried any discussion of slavery as tending to produce schism in the Church. No denomination that I am aware of ever succeeded in passing a resolution to exclude slaveholders from its communion; and the Unitarians are, I believe, the only religious sect who offer up prayers in their chapels for the overthrow of slavery. The question how far the Churches in America were at liberty to enter on the topic of slavery is a very difficult one. Every allowance should be made, if their final decision was, as I think, wrong. It certainly has proved unfortunate. All parties agree that the clergy, who, twenty or thirty years ago, possessed immense power in New England, have now no political influence whatever. It is clear, too, that the date of their decline in authority coincides with the period when the question of slavery became the dominant question of the day, and the Church decided to abstain from its discussion. The great influence probably both of Emerson and Theodore Parker is due to the fact that their teaching grappled with subjects the Church was, and is, afraid to speak out upon openly. It was thus, on the very eve of secession, that the official organ of the Abolitionists described their position with regard to the Church: —

"The relation of the ecclesiastical bodies in this country to the slave system is mainly the same as heretofore. Whatever exceptional facts may be scattered

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here and there, the year just gone has recorded no such change of attitude or policy on the part of the Churches generally as can relieve them from the long recorded charge of efficient partnership in the nation's sin. If a few small Churches, or some branches of the larger, have spoken of it, and signified a purpose to act toward it as befits their Christian name and profession, the vast majority still hold their false position; and even of the few which have seemed to take a better, some, if not most, have in great measure neutralized their right words by neglecting to follow them up with corresponding action."

The rural districts are, I suspect, the stronghold of New England Abolitionism. In the country, much more of the old Puritan feeling is to be found than in the towns. During the access of the temperance mania, which had power to pass the Maine liquor law, but not power enough to carry it into effect, the Massachusetts farmers in many places cut down their apple-trees with their own hands, in order to hinder the possibility of cider being manufactured again. The same uncompromising spirit undoubtedly prevails still; and whereever Abolition sentiments have made their way in the country villages, the descendants of the Puritans are for cutting down slavery, root and branch, without stint and without mercy. In the towns the feeling about or against slavery is much less strongly developed. Their trade interests were opposed to any collision

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with the South, and trade interests in America are even more powerful than they are with us. Besides all this, a very large majority of the New Englanders were hostile to the Abolition movement, not from love of standing well with the fashionable "upper ten thousand," or even from pecuniary interest, but in a great measure from honest conviction. I don't think that we in England have at all done justice to the distinction between the Anti-slavery and the Abolition party. Every Englishman almost, I suppose, would say, if he were asked, that he disapproved of slavery. Yet, I suppose, also, that there is not one Englishman in a hundred, or in a thousand, who would admit that England was countenancing slavery by buying slave-grown cotton. The answer would be, and perhaps with reason — "England has nothing whatever to do with the internal institutions of her customers. We disapprove of slavery, and do not hesitate to say so, but we are not bound by this disapproval to break off all commercials or social relations with slaveholders. It is enough for us that we have done our own duty." Now this, with little alteration, is exactly the language of the New England Republicans. "We disapprove," they say, "of slavery; we have abolished it everywhere within our own jurisdiction; we have opposed any extension of the system for which we could be considered responsible; but we are not bound to exclude ourselves from all fellowship and connexion with

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other States in which slavery is established." Now, Abolition means, if it means anything, that any union or partnership with slaveholding communities is a sin. If the North is in duty bound to suppress slavery in the Slave States, at the risk of breaking up the Union, I am not clear that, by the same rule, England is not bound to decline the purchase of slave-grown cotton. The whole question is a most difficult and a most painful one; and I should be sorry to condemn either the Abolitionist or the Anti-slavery party. It is, however, to my mind, most unjust to accuse the latter of want of sincerity because they do not and cannot endorse the creed of Abolitionism. That the result of this war may be the overthrow of slavery is my most earnest hope and prayer; but I cannot blame those who, hating slavery, and resolved to check its extension, are not prepared to extinguish it in other States, unless the necessity is forced upon them by the instinct of self-preservation.

With the public, the press, the Church, and society hostile to them, it is not surprising that the progress of the Abolitionists proper should have been small. The society which represents them significantly enough does not bear the name of the "Abolition Society," but has adopted the more moderate, though less appropriate, one of the "Anti-Slavery." The direct influence of this body I take to have been small. During the "John Brown year," when the popular excitement

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about slavery was at the highest, the whole receipts of the society were under three thousand pounds — a scanty allowance in this most charitable of States. In the list of the vice-presidents and committee you will not find one single name of public note, except that of Lloyd Garrison, and Wendell Phillips. The men whose names we know best in Europe, in connexion with the anti-slavery cause — Charles Sumner, Ward Beecher, Lovejoy, Wade, and Fremont — are not members of the Committee. The explanation of this is obvious. The fundamental tenet of the Abolitionists is that slavery is a crime with which an honest man can hold no communion. Now the whole of the United States' constitution rests upon the assumption that slavery, even if an evil, is not a crime which the Government is called upon to deal with. It is very difficult, therefore, for any man to be an Abolitionist, in our English sense of the word, and yet to take part in American public life. The Ultra-abolitionists say, that the Republicans have solved the problem of serving both God and mammon. Certainly, the creed of the Republicans consists in being as hostile to slavery as is consistent with loyalty to the Union and the Constitution; while the Abolitionists hold the converse doctrine and are as loyal to the Union as is consistent with hostility to slavery. Between the holders of these conflicting doctrines there may be sympathy, but there cannot be co-operation.

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In May, 1860, just before the presidential canvass which resulted in the return of Mr. Lincoln, the Anti-Slavery Society put forth the following resolutions as their programme for the year: —

"Resolved — that in the language of Henry Clay, Those who would repress all tendencies towards liberty and emancipation must go back to the year of our liberty and independence, and muzzle the cannon which proclaims the annual joyous return. They must revive the slave trade, with all its train of atrocities. They must blow out the moral lights around us, and extinguish that greatest torch of all, which America presents to a benighted world, pointing the way to their rights, their liberties, and their happiness; and when they have achieved all their purposes, their work will be yet incomplete. They must penetrate the human soul, and eradicate the light of reason and the love of liberty. Then, and not till then, when universal darkness and despair prevail, can you perpetuate slavery, and repress all sympathies and all humane and benevolent efforts among free men, in behalf of the unhappy portion of our race doomed to bondage.

That they who are for suppressing the anti-slavery agitation, are really labouring for the complete suppremacy and enduring sway of the slave power, that they who are deploring the excitement of the times arising from this question, are really lamenting that

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there is any manhood or moral sentiment left in the land, and arraigning the Almighty for inspiring the human mind with a detestation of robbery, injustice, and oppression. That to compromise with the dealers in human flesh, to accede to any of their demands, to enter into an alliance with them from which they shall derive strength and security, to acknowledge in any manner the rectitude or necessity of their cause, is to participate in their guilt, to ensure general demoralisation, to lose the power of a virtuous example, and to betray the cause of freedom universally.

* * * * * *

That the party which talks of the ‘glorious Union’ existing between the North and South, and of the duty of maintaining it as an object of paramount importance, is smitten with judicial blindness, talks of what has never been, and, in the nature of things, can never be possible, is either the dupe or the ally of a stupendous imposture, which an insane and criminal experiment of threescore years has demonstrated is working the overthrow of all the safeguards of freedom, and consequently is a party neither to be trusted nor followed.

That in the words of the lamented Judge Jay, the Union is ‘a most grievous moral curse to the American people: — to the people of the South, by fostering, strengthening, and extending an iniquitous and

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baneful institution — to the millions among us of African descent by rivetting the chains of the bondman, and deepening the degradation of the freeman — to the people of the Free States, by tempting them to trample under foot the obligations of truth, justice, and humanity, for those wages of iniquity with which the Federal Government rewards apostates to liberty and righteousness.’

That the ‘glorious Union,’ ever since its formation, has signified nothing but the supremacy of a Southern slave oligarchy, who have always dictated the policy of the nation, and who claim a Divine right to rule, according to their pleasure, alike the slaves and their plantations and the people of the Free States, with out remonstrance or interrogation, and as the condition of the perpetuation of the ‘glorious Union,’ aforesaid.

* * * * * *

Resolved, therefore, that the motto of the American Anti-Slavery Society, ‘No Union with Slaveholders,’ commends itself to the reason, conscience, and hearty adoption of every man claiming to be loyal to the Declaration of Independence; and it becomes the solemn duty of the North to carry it into immediate practice, as demanded by every instinct of self-preservation, and by all that is obligatory in the claims of justice and humanity."

This, in American phrase, was the "platform" of the

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Abolitionists. It is worth while to compare with it the profession of faith of the Republican party, as put forth in President Lincoln's inaugural address: —

"Apprehension seems to exist among the people of the Southern States that, by the accession of a Republican administration, their property, and their peace, and personal security, are to be endangered. There has never been any reasonable cause for such apprehension. Indeed the most ample evidence to the contrary has all the while existed, and been open to their inspection. It is found in nearly all the public speeches of him who now addresses you, — I do but quote from one of these speeches when I declare that ‘I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists.’ I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so. Those who nominated and elected me did so with the full knowledge that I had made this, and had made many similar declarations, and had never recanted them. And more than this, they placed on the platform for my acceptance, and as a law to themselves and to me, the clear and emphatic resolution which I now read: — ‘Resolved, that the maintenance, inviolate, of the rights of the States, and especially the right of each State to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of power

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on which the perfection and endurance of our political fabric depend; and we denounce the lawless invasion, by armed force, of the soil of any State or Territory, no matter under what pretext, as among the gravest of crimes.’"

It was impossible, as the reader will observe, for any one who adopted in their integrity the tenets of the Anti-Slavery Society to take part in a Government which its authorised exponents — even those who were personally most antagonistic to the system of slavery-expounded after this fashion. The consequence was, that the Abolitionists were debarred, by their own choice as much as by their personal unpopularity, from taking any share in public life. For the sake of principle, they not only suffered social martyrdom, but they allowed themselves to be excluded from office, from political distinction, and from participation in that great sphere of public activity which is open to all Americans of energy and talent. I do not believe myself that persecution is good for any man; and I have little doubt that the Abolitionists, to a certain extent, have had their minds warped by the persecution they have undergone. Every man's hand was against them, and therefore they had an irresistible sympathy with all isolated and unappreciated sects and doctrines. The Churches, one and all, were against them; and so the Abolitionists have fallen away from the Churches, and have thus lost, in great measure, the support of the

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religious world. Religion, I suspect, has suffered more than the Abolitionists by the separation; but still the Abolitionists have suffered also. The great cause of Abolition has been mixed up with, and discredited by, the minor and distinct causes of Spiritualism, and Non-resistance, and Woman's Rights. Take Lloyd Garrison, for instance, as earnest and single-hearted a Reformer, I believe, as the world has seen; yet, the influence of his gallant lifelong struggle against slavery has been disparaged by the fact that he has constituted himself the avowed advocate of every one of the many "isms" which New England has given birth to; and in so doing he has been only too truly the type of his party.

Amongst the Abolitionists themselves there are different sections. The party, of which the Stowes and Beechers may be considered the representatives, approximates most closely to the outer world. The marvellous and almost unparalleled success of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," raised this section to a temporary predominance. For my own part I was not impressed favourably by what I heard and saw of the Beecher-Stowe Abolitionists. They seemed to me to represent the sickly sentimentalism which is sure to attach itself to any cause however good. I believe that "Uncle Tom's Cabin" did as much harm, by removing the question of emancipation from the domain of fact into that of fiction, as it did good, by calling public attention to the evils of slavery. It is possible that

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Mr. Ward Beecher's oratorical theology may really influence a large class of semi-educated persons. To me it bore an appearance of affectation and want of earnestness, mixed up with a kind of undignified jocosity, which I found hard to reconcile with a belief in the preacher's real depth of feeling. It may be that I judge them hardly; but it always seemed to me that the Anti-slavery cause would have fared better without the services of the Beecher connexion. They laboured under the fatal objection that, wishing the end, they were afraid to assert their approval of the means. They professed certain doctrines which entailed inevitable consequences, and yet they shrunk perpetually from admitting the logical deduction of their own professions. Teaching a creed which was subversive of the Union, they had not courage to pronounce distinctly against the maintenance of the established order of things, and thus both friends and enemies looked upon them as half-hearted, and not altogether without reason. Then there was another section, which might be called the "Mountain" of Abolitionism, which went even further than the recognised leaders of the party. This section, of which Mr. Conway, the author of "The Rejected Stone," was the most prominent member, repudiated all connexion whatever with persons who did not hold their extreme views, and regarded men like Phillips and Lowell as traitors to the cause, because they conceived that they might lawfully accept the

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assistance of others who, not holding their own opinions, were still willing, up to a certain point, to assist in carrying them into effect.

But both these sections of the Abolitionists were insignificant and uninfluential, as compared with that led by Wendell Phillips and Lloyd Garrison. Of the whole phalanx, the former was the tower of strength. Gifted with great talents, with untiring energy, and, above all, with an eloquence which I have never heard equalled, he might have risen to any height in public life. But, for conscience sake, he refused to enter on a career which necessitated, to say the least, an outward acquiescence in the sin of slavery. He has laboured for years past, amidst ridicule and abuse and obloquy, to awaken the nation to a sense of their duty. It is difficult for an Englishman to conceive the amount of moral courage required by an American who preaches the doctrine that the venerated Constitution of Washington and Hamilton is in itself a compact with sin, an evil to be abolished. His friends say, that he is the Aaron of the party, while Garrison has been the Moses. It may be so, but the words and voice which have stirred up the hearts of the New Englanders for long years past have been those of Phillips. Whatever your opinions may be, I defy you to listen to that scathing burning eloquence of his, and not be carried away, for the time at least. More of us have a heart somewhere about us, and the great Abolitionist orator has an unrivalled talent for

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finding that heart out, and working upon its chords. When you once have heard him, agreeing or disagreeing, you cannot doubt the fact of his courage; pro-slavery, or anti-slavery, you cannot question the power of his eloquence. And his labour has not been in vain. It was my good fortune, while in New England, to see a great deal of the Abolitionist party, and I have never come across a set of people whom I have admired and respected more. I should be sorry, therefore, if these remarks should convey an impression that in my opinion the influence of the Abolitionists has been small. It is to them in great measure, to their unceasing testimony as to the truth of the "higher law," that the existence of the Republican party is due. Directly, I should doubt the Abolitionists having increased of late, either in numbers or in influence. It is impossible to say how long it may be before the American people come to the conclusion that slavery is a crime which, like robbery, must be suppressed, and which no Christian government can permit. It is doubtful to my mind whether the people ever will come, as a nation, to this conclusion. But every day the conviction is spreading throughout the North that slavery is an evil to be tolerated at the utmost. This may not be the whole truth, but still it is a very large half of it, and from that conviction to the extinction of slavery the step is not a long one. When once slavery is abolished, abolition principles will, of course,

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become fashionable, but I question whether the early Abolitionists will even then be personally popular. There are prophets whose prophecies are scouted at the time, and not appreciated when fulfilled, and I think that men like Wendell Phillips belong to this class. Happily their reward will be in the success of their labours, not in popular applause. The last two years, however, have already raised the social and political position of the Abolitionists. They are now advocates, instead of enemies, of the Union. As the nation became more and more convinced that the Abolitionist maxim is true and that the Union is incompatible with slavery, the men known hitherto as the bitterest opponents of slavery, came in popular idea to be regarded as the stanchest friends of the Union. Indeed, the recent policy of the Abolitionists is explained better by a saying of Wendell Phillips, than by any elaborate explanation. Some one asked him how he, who had been proclaiming for years, "that the Union was the fruit of slavery and of the devil," could be now an ardent advocate of this very Union. His answer was, "Yes; but I never expected then that slavery and the devil would secede from the Union." So it is; secession has brought the Abolitionists and the Republicans into the same camp, but the Abolitionists are still a distant outpost, a sort of enfants perdus of the army of the Union.

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Dicey, Edward. Six Months in the Federal States, Vol. II . London: MacMillan and Co., 1863. [format: book], [genre: travelogue]. Permission: Newberry Library
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