Harriet Beecher Stowe
page was prepared by the following members of English 300 (Winter 1997,
Brad Barnette Steve Bentley Katherine Blymer
On May 7, 1853, during a visit to England, Stowe was presented with a petition containing the signatures of over a half million British women, in twenty-six bound volumes. This petition, "An Affectionate and Christian Address of Many Thousands of Women of Great Britain and Ireland to Their Sisters the Women of the United States of America," was drafted by the Earl of Shaftesbury. The document had been circulated by volunteers thoughout the British Isles, collecting the signatures of women in all walks of life, many of whom had undoubtedly read Uncle Tom's Cabin. As the women of both countries were deprived of the right to vote, the women of Britain made their voice heard in this manner, hoping to rouse the women of the United States to the anti-slavery cause.
In response, Stowe first promised to establish a committee of women who would attempt to establish the same sort of organization as the British committee that collected those thousands of signatures. She planned to contact other well-known women writers, including Catherine Maria Sedgwick, Caroline Kirkland, and her own sister, Catharine Beecher. The effort was ultimately unsuccessful, as Stowe had no strong connections to either established women's organizations or anti-slavery groups. Following the outbreak of the Civil War, she observed the pro-Southern sympathies of Great Britain (largely related to their dependence on Southern cotton interests) and decided to remind the British of their own words against slavery nine years earlier. Her "Reply to the Affectionate and Christian Address..." was dated November 27, 1862, and appeared in the Atlantic Monthly.
To "The Affectionate and Christian Address of Many Thousands of Women of Great Britain and Ireland to Their Sisters the Women of the United States of America"
Maria Bedford (Duchess of Bedford)
SISTERS, -- More than eight years ago you sent to us in America a document with the above heading. It is as follows:
A common origin, a common faith, and, we sincerely, believe, a common cause, urge us, at the present moment, to address you on the subject of that system of negro slavery which still prevails so extensively, and, even under kindly disposed masters, with such frightful results, in many of the vast regions of the Western world.
We will not dwell on the ordinary topics, -- on the progress of civilization, on the advance of freedom everywhere, on the rights and requirements of the nineteenth century; but we appeal to you very seriously to reflect and to ask counsel of God how far such a state of things is in accordance with his Holy Word, the inalienable rights of immortal souls, and the pure and merciful spirit of the Christian religion. We do not shut our eyes to the difficulties, nay, the dangers, that might beset the immediate abolition of that long-established system. We see and admit the necessity of preparation for so great an event; but, in speaking of indispensable preliminaries, we cannot be silent on those laws of your country which, in direct contravention of God's own law, 'instituted in the time of man's innocency,' deny in effect to the slave the sanctity of marriage, with all its joys, rights, and obligations; which separate, at the will of the master, the wife from the husband and the children from the parents. Nor can we be silent on that awful system which either by statute or by custom interdicts to any race of man or any portion of the human family education in the truths of the gospel and the ordinances of Christianity. A remedy applied to these two evils alone would commence the amelioration of their sad condition. We appeal to you, then, as sisters, as wives, and as mothers, to raise your voices to your fellow citizens and your prayers to God for the removal of this affliction and disgrace from the Christian world.
We do not say these things in a spirit of self-complacency, as though our nation were free from the guilt it perceives in others.
We acknowledge with grief and shame our heavy share in this great sin. We acknowledge that our forefathers introduced, nay, compelled the adoption of slavery in those mighty colonies. We humbly confess it before Almighty God; and it is because we so deeply feel and so unfeignedly avow our own complicity that we now venture to implore your aid to wipe away our common crime and our common dishonor.
This address, splendidly illuminated on vellum, was sent to our shores at the head of twenty-six folio volumes, containing considerably more than half a million of signatures of British women. It was forwarded to me with a letter from a British nobleman, now occupying one of the highest official positions in England, with a request on behalf of these ladies that it should be in any possible way presented to the attention of my countrywomen.
This memorial, as it now stands in its solid oaken case, with its heavy folios, each bearing on its back the imprint of the American eagle, forms a most unique library, a singular monument of an international expression of a moral idea.
No right-thinking person can find aught to be objected against the substance or the form of this memorial. It is temperate, just, and kindly, and on the high ground of Christian equality, where it places itself, may be regarded as a perfectly proper expression of sentiment, as between blood-relations and equals in two different nations.
The signatures to this appeal are not the least remarkable part of it; for, beginning at the very steps of the throne, they go down to the names of women in the very humblest conditions of life, and represent all that Great Britain possesses, not only of highest and wisest, but of plain, homely common sense and good feeling. Names of wives of cabinet ministers appear on the same page with the names of wives of humble laborers, -- names of duchesses and countesses, of wives of generals, ambassadors, savans, and men of letters mingled with names traced in trembling characters by hands evidently unused to hold the pen and stiffened by lowly toil. Nay, so deep and expansive was the feeling, that British subjects in foreign lands had their representation. Among the signatures are those of foreign residents from Paris to Jerusalem. Autographs so diverse, and collected from sources so various, have seldom been found in juxtaposition. They remain at this day a silent witness of a most singular tide of feeling which at that time swept over the British community, and made for itself an expression, even at the risk of offending the sensibilities of an equal and powerful nation.
No reply to that address, in any such tangible and monumental form, has ever been possible. It was impossible to canvass our vast territories with the zealous and indefatigable industry with which England was canvassed for signatures. In America, those possessed of the spirit which led to this efficient action had no leisure for it. All their time and energies were already absorbed in direct efforts to remove the great evil concerning which the minds of their English sisters had been newly aroused, and their only answer was the silent continuance of these efforts.
From the slave-holding States, however, as was to be expected, came a flood of indignant recrimination and rebuke. No one act, perhaps, ever produced more frantic irritation or called out more unsparing abuse. It came with the whole united weight of the British aristocracy and commonality on the most diseased and sensitive part of our national life; and it stimulated that fierce excitement which was working before and has worked since till it has broken out into open war.
The time has come, however, when such an astonishing page has been turned in the anti-slavery history of America that the women of our country, feeling that the great anti-slavery work to which their English sisters exhorted them is almost done, may properly and naturally feel moved to reply to their appeal, and lay before them the history of what has occurred since the receipt of their affectionate and Christian address.
Your address reached us just as a great moral conflict was coming to its intensest point.
The agitation kept up by the anti-slavery portion of America, by England, and by the general sentiment of humanity in Europe, had made the situation of the slave-holding aristocracy intolerable. As one of them at the time expressed it, they felt themselves under the ban of the civilized world. Two courses only were open to them, -- to abandon slave institutions, the sources of their wealth and political power, or to assert them with such an overwhelming national force as to compel the respect and assent of mankind. They chose the latter.
To this end they determined to seize on and control all the resources of the Federal government, and to spread their institutions through new States and Territories until the balance of power should fall into their hands and they should be able to force slavery into all the free States. A leading Southern Senator boasted that he would yet call the roll of his slaves on Bunker Hill; and for a while the political successes of the slave power were such as to suggest to New England that this was no impossible event. They repealed the Missouri Compromise, which had hitherto stood, like the Chinese wall, between our Northwestern Territories and the irruptions of slave-holding barbarians.
Then came the struggle between Freedom and Slavery in the new territory, -- the battle for Kansas and Nebraska, fought with fire and sword and blood, where a race of men, of whom John Brown was the immortal type, acted over again the courage, the perseverance, and the military religious ardor of the old Covenanters of Scotland, and, like them, redeemed the Ark of Liberty at the price of their own blood and blood dearer than their own.
The time of the presidential canvass which elected Mr. Lincoln was the crisis of this great battle. The conflict had become narrowed down to the one point of the extension of slave territory. If the slave-holders could get States enough, they could control and rule; if they were outnumbered by free States, their institutions, by the very law of their nature, would die of suffocation. Therefore Fugitive Slave Law, District of Columbia, Interstate Slave Trade, and what not, were all thrown out of sight for a grand rally on this vital point. A President was elected pledged to opposition to this one thing alone, -- a man known to be in favor of the Fugitive Slave Law, and other so-called compromises of the Constitution, but honest and faithful in his determination on this one subject. That this was indeed the vital point was shown by the result. The moment Lincoln's election was ascertained, the slave-holders resolved to destroy the Union they could no longer control.
They met and organized a Confederacy which they openly declared to be the first republic founded on the right and determination of the white man to enslave the black man, and, spreading their banners, declared themselves to the Christian world of the nineteenth century as a nation organized with the full purpose and intent of perpetuating slavery. But, in the course of the struggle that followed, it became important for the new confederation to secure the assistance of foreign powers, and infinite pains were then taken to blind and bewilder the mind of England as to the real issues of the conflict in America.
It has been often and earnestly asserted that slavery had nothing to do with this conflict; that it was a mere struggle for power; that the only object was to restore the Union as it was, with all its abuses. It is to be admitted that expressions have proceeded from the national administration which naturally gave rise to misapprehension, and therefore we beg to speak to you on this subject more fully.
And, first, the declaration of the Confederate States themselves is proof enough that, whatever may be declared on the other side, the maintenance of slavery is regarded by them as the vital object of their movement.
We ask your attention under this head to the declaration of their Vice-President, Stephens, in that remarkable speech delivered on the 21st of March, 1861, at Savannah, Georgia, wherein he declares the object and purposes of the new Confederacy. It is one of the most extraordinary papers which our century has produced. I quote from the verbatim report in the Savannah "Republican" of the address as it was delivered in the Athenaeum of that city, on which occasion, says the newspaper from which I copy, "Mr. Stephens took his seat amid a burst on enthusiasm and applause such as the Athenaeum has never had displayed within its walls within 'the recollection of the oldest inhabitant.'"
Last, not least, the new Constitution has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution, -- African slavery as it exists among us, the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson, in his forecast, had anticipated this as the "rock upon which the old Union would split." He was right. What was conjecture with him is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old Constitution were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature, that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with; but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other, in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the Constitution, was the prevailing idea at the time. The Constitution, it is true, secured every essential guaranty to the institution while it should last; and hence no argument can be justly used against the Constitutional guaranties thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation; and the idea of a government built upon it -- when "the storm came and the wind blew, it fell."
Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas: its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition. (Applause.) This our new government is the first in the history of the world based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.
This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It is even so amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North who still cling to these errors with a zeal above knowledge we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind, from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises. So with the anti-slavery fanatics: their conclusions are right if their premises are. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just; but, their premises being wrong, their whole argument fails.
In the conflict thus far, success has been on our side complete, throughout the length and breadth of the Confederate States. It is upon this, as I have stated, our social fabric is firmly planted; and I cannot permit myself to doubt the ultimate success of a full recognition of this principle throughout the civilized and enlightened world.
As I have stated, the truth of this principle may be slow in development, as all truths are, and ever have been, in the various branches of science. It was so with the principles announced by Galileo; it was so with Adam Smith and his principles of political economy; it was so with Harvey in his theory of the circulation of the blood. It is said that not a single one of the medical profession, at the time of the announcement of the truths made by him, admitted them; now they are universally acknowledged. May we not, therefore, look with confidence to the ultimate universal acknowledgment of the truths upon which our system rests? It is the first government ever instituted upon principles in strict conformity to nature and the ordination of Providence in furnishing the material of human society. Many governments have been founded upon the principles of certain classes; but the classes thus enslaved were of the same race and in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature's laws. The negro, by nature or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. The architect, in the construction of buildings, lays the foundation with the proper material, -- the granite; then comes the brick or marble. The substratum of our society is made of the material fitted by nature for it; and by experience we know that it is best, not only for the superior but the inferior race, that it should be so. It is, indeed, in conformity with the Creator. It is not safe for us to inquire into the wisdom of his ordinances, or to question them. For his own purposes He has made one race to differ from another, as one star differeth from another in glory. The great objects of humanity are best attained when conformed to his laws and decrees, in the formation of government as well as in all things else. Our Confederacy is founded on a strict conformity with those laws. This stone, which was rejected by the first builders, has become the chief stone of the corner in our new edifice!
Thus far the declarations of the slave-holding Confederacy.
On the other hand, the declarations of the President and the Republican party, as to their intention to restore "the Union as it was," require an explanation. It is the doctrine of the Republican party that freedom is national and slavery sectional; that the Constitution of the United States was designed for the promotion of liberty, and not of slavery; that its framers contemplated the gradual abolition of slavery; and that in the hands of an anti-slavery majority it could be so wielded as peaceably to extinguish this great evil.
They reasoned thus: Slavery ruins land, and requires fresh territory for profitable working. Slavery increases a dangerous population, and requires an expansion of this population for safety. Slavery, then, being hemmed in by impassable limits, emancipation in each State becomes a necessity.
By restoring the Union as it was the Republican party meant the Union in the sense contemplated by the original framers of it, who, as has been admitted by Stephens in his speech, just quoted, were from principle opposed to slavery. It was, then, restoring a status in which, by the inevitable operation of natural laws, peaceful emancipation would become a certainty.
In the mean while, during the past year, the Republican administration, with all the unwonted care of organizing an army and navy and conducting military operations on an immense scale, have proceeded to demonstrate the feasibility of overthrowing slavery by purely constitutional measures. To this end they have instituted a series of movements which have made this year more fruitful in anti-slavery triumphs than any other since the emancipation of the British West Indies.
The District of Columbia, as belonging strictly to the national government and to no separate State, has furnished a fruitful subject of remonstrance from British Christians with America. We have abolished slavery there, and thus wiped out the only blot of territorial responsibility on our escutcheon.
By another act, equally grand in principle and far more important in its results, slavery is forever excluded from the Territories of the United States.
By another act, America has consummated the long-delayed treaty with Great Britain for the suppression of the slave trade. In ports whence slave vessels formerly sailed with the connivance of the port officers the administration has placed men who stand up to their duty, and for the first time in our history the slave-trader is convicted and hung as a pirate. This abominable secret traffic has been wholly demolished by the energy of the Federal government.
Lastly, and more significant still, the United States government has in its highest official capacity taken distinct anti-slavery ground, and presented to the country a plan of peaceable emancipation with suitable compensation. This noble-spirited and generous offer has been urged on the slave-holding States by the chief executive with an earnestness and sincerity of which history in after-times will make honorable account in recording the events of Mr. Lincoln's administration.
Now, when a President and administration who have done all these things declare their intention of restoring "the Union as it was," ought not the world fairly to interpret their words by their actions and their avowed principles? Is it not necessary to infer that they mean by it the Union as it was in the intent of its anti-slavery framers, under which, by the exercise of normal constitutional powers, slavery should be peaceably abolished?
We are aware that this theory of the Constitution has been disputed by certain abolitionists; but it is conceded, as you have seen, by the secessionists. Whether it be a just theory or not is, however, nothing to our purpose at present. We only assert that such is the professed belief of the present administration of the United States, and such are the acts by which they have illustrated their belief.
But this is but half the story of the anti-slavery triumphs of this year. We have shown you what has been done for freedom by the simple use of the ordinary constitutional forces of the Union. We are now to show you what has been done to the same end by the constitutional war-power of the nation.
By this power it has been this year decreed that every slave of a rebel who reaches the lines of our army becomes a free man; that all slaves found deserted by their masters become free men; that every slave employed in any service for the United States thereby obtains his liberty; and that every slave employed against the United States in any capacity gains his liberty; and, lest the army should contain officers disposed to remand slaves to their masters, the power of judging and delivering up slaves is denied to army officers, and all such acts are made penal.
By this act, the Fugitive Slave Law is for all present purposes practically repealed. With this understanding and provision, wherever our armies march they carry liberty with them. For be it remembered that our army is almost entirely a volunteer one, and that the most zealous and ardent volunteers are those who have been for years fighting with tongue and pen the abolition battle. So marked is the character of our soldiers in this respect, that they are now familiarly designated in the official military dispatches of the Confederate States as "the abolitionists." Conceive the results when an army so empowered by national law marches through a slave territory. One regiment alone has to our certain knowledge liberated two thousand slaves during the past year, and this regiment is but one out of hundreds. We beg to lay before you some details given by an eye-witness of what has recently been done in this respect in the department of the South: --
On Board Steamer from Fortress Monroe to Baltimore, November 14, 1862
Events of no ordinary interest have just occurred in the department of the South. The negro troops have been tested, and to their great joy, though not contrary to their own expectations, they have triumphed, not only over enemies armed with muskets and swords, but over what the black man dreads most, -- sharp and cruel prejudices.
General Saxton, on the 28th of October, sent the captured steamer Darlington, Captain Crandell, down the coast of Georgia, and to Fernandina, Florida, to obtain recruits for the First Regiment South Carolina Volunteers. Lieutenant-Colonel O.T. Beard, of the Forty-eighth New York Volunteers, was given the command of the expedition. In addition to obtaining recruits, the condition and wants of the recent refugees from slavery along the coast were to be looked into, and, if occasion should offer, it was permitted to "feel the enemy." At St. Simon's, Georgia, Captain Trowbridge, with thirty-five men of the "Hunter Regiment of First South Carolina Volunteers," who had been stationed there for three months, together with twenty-seven more men, were received on board. With this company of sixty-two men the Darlington proceeded to Fernandina.
On arriving, a meeting of the colored men was called to obtain enlistments. The large church was crowded. After addresses had been made by the writer and Colonel Beard, one hundred men volunteered at once, and the number soon reached about one hundred and twenty-five. Such, however, were the demands of Fort Clinch and the quartermaster's department for laborers that Colonel Rich, commanding the fort, consented to only twenty-five men leaving. This was a sad disappointment, and one which some determined not to bear. The twenty-five men were carefully selected from among those not employed either on the fort or in the quartermaster's department, and put on board. Amid the farewells and benedictions of hundreds of their friends on shore they took their departure, to prove the truth or falsity of the charge, "the black man can never fight." On calling the roll, a few miles from port, it was found our twenty-five men had increased to fifty-four. Determined not to be foiled in their purpose of being soldiers, it was found that thirty men had quietly found their way on board just at break of day, and had concealed themselves in the hold of the ship. When asked why they did so, their reply was, --
"Oh, we want to fight for liberty, and for de liberty of our wives and children."
"But would you dare to face your old masters?"
"Oh, yes, yes! why, we would fight to de death to get our families," was the quick response.
No one doubted their sincerity. Muskets were soon in their hands, and no time was lost in drilling them. Our steamer, a very frail one, had been barricaded around the bow and stern, and also provided with two twelve-pounder Parrott guns. These guns had to be worked by black men, under the direction of the captain of the steamer. Our fighting men numbered only about one hundred and ten, and fifty of them were raw recruits. The expedition was not a very formidable one, still all seemed to have an unusual degree of confidence as to its success.
November 6. The women and children (about fifty) taken from St. Simon's on the day previous were now landed for safety in St. Catharine's, as a more hazardous work was to be undertaken. Much of the night was spent in getting wood for the steamer, killing beeves, and cooking meats, rice, and corn for our women and children on shore and for the troops. The men needed no "driver's lash" to incite them to labor. Sleep and rest were almost unwelcome, for they were preparing to go up Sapelo River, along whose banks, on the beautiful plantations, were their fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, wives, and children. Weeks and months before, some of the men had left those loved ones, with a promise to return "if de good Lord jis open de way."
At five o'clock on Friday morning, November 7, we were under way. Captain Budd, of the gunboat Potomska, had kindly promised the evening before to accompany us past the most dangerous places. On reaching his station in Sapelo Sound, we found him in readiness. Our little fleet, led by the Potomska and followed by the Darlington, sailed proudly up the winding Sapelo, now through marshes and then past large and beautiful plantations. It was very affecting to see our soldiers watching intensely the colored forms on land, one saying, in the agony of deepest anxiety, "Oh, mas'r, my wife and chillen lib dere," and another singing out, "Dere, dere my brodder," or "my sister." The earnest longings of their poor, anguish-riven hearts for landings, and then the sad, inexpressible regrets as the steamer passed, must be imagined, -- they cannot be described.
The first landing was made at a picket station on Charles Hopkins's plantation. The enemy was driven back; a few guns and a sword only captured. The Potomska came to anchorage, for lack of sufficient water, a few miles above, at Reuben King's plantation. Here we witnessed a rich scene. Some fifty negroes appeared on the banks, about thirty rods distant from their master's house, and some distance from the Darlington. They gazed upon us with intense feelings, alternately turning their eyes toward their master, who was watching them from his piazza, and toward our steamer, which, as yet, had given them no assurances of landing. The moment she headed to the shore, their doubts were dispersed, and they gave us such a welcome as angels would be satisfied with. Some few women were so filled with joy that they ran, leaped, clapped their hands, and cried, "Glory to God! Glory to God!"
After relieving the old planter of twenty thousand dollars' worth of humanity, that is, fifty-two slaves, and the leather of his tannery, we re-embarked. Our boats were sent once and again, however, to the shore for men, who, having heard the steam-whistle, came in greatest haste from distant plantations.
As the Potomka could go no farther, Captain Budd kindly offered to accompany us with one gun's crew. We were glad to have his company and the services of the crew, as we had only one gun's crew of colored men. Above us was a bend in the river, and a high bluff covered with thick woods. There we apprehended danger, for the rebels had had ample time to collect their forces. The men were carefully posted, fully instructed as to their duties and dangers by Colonel Beard. Our Parrotts were manned, and everything was in readiness. No sooner were we within rifleshot than the enemy opened upon us a heavy fire from behind the bank and trees, and also from the tops of the trees. Our speed being slow and the river's bend quite large, we were within range of the enemy's guns for some time. How well our troops bore themselves will be seen by Captain Budd's testimony.
Our next landing was made at Daniel McDonald's plantation. His extensive and valuable salt-works were demolished, and he himself taken prisoner. By documents captured, it was ascertained that he was a rebel of the worst kind. We took only a few of his slaves, as he drove back into the woods about ninety of them just before our arrival. One fine-looking man came hobbling down on a crutch. McDonald had shot off one of his legs some eighteen months before. The next plantation had some five hundred slaves on it; several of our troops had come from it, and also had relatives there, but the lateness of the hour and the dangerous points to be passed on our return admonished us to retreat.
Our next attack was expected at the bluff. The enemy had improved the time since we parted from them in gathering reinforcements. Colonel Beard prepared the men for a warm fire. While everything was in readiness, and the steamer dropping down hard upon the enemy, the writer passed around among the men, who were waiting coolly for the moment of attack, and asked them if they found their courage failing. "Oh, no, mas'r, our trust be in de Lord. We only want fair chance at 'em," was the unanimous cry.
Most people have doubted the courage of negroes, and their ability to stand a warm fire of the enemy. The engagements of this day were not an open-field fight, to be sure, but the circumstances were peculiar. They were taken by surprise, the enemy concealed, his force not known, and some of the troops had been enlisted only two days. Captain Budd, a brave and experienced officer, and eye-witness of both engagements, has kindly given his opinion, which we are sure will vindicate the policy, as well as justness, of arming the colored man for his own freedom at least: --
United States Steamer Potomska
Sapelo River, Ga, Nov 7, 1862.
Sir, -- It gives me pleasure to testify to the admirable conduct of the negro troops (First S.C. Volunteers) under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Beard, Forty-eighth New York Volunteers, during this day's operations. They behaved splendidly under the warm and galling fire we were exposed to in the two skirmishes with the enemy. I did not see a man flinch, contrary to my expectations.
One of them, particularly, came under my notice, who, although badly wounded in the face, continued to load and fire, in the coolest manner imaginable.
Every one of them acted like veterans.
Acting Lieutenant Commanding Potomska
To the Rev. M. French, Chaplain, U.S.A.
On reaching his ship, Captain Budd led our retreat. It had been agreed, after full consultation on the subject, that, in our descent down the river, it was best to burn the buildings of Captain Hopkins and Colonel Brailsford. Both of these places were strong picket stations, particularly the latter. Brailsford had been down with a small force a few days before our arrival at St. Catharine's, and shot one of our contrabands, wounded mortally, as was supposed, another, and carried off four women and three men. He had also whipped to death, three weeks before, a slave for attempting to make his escape. We had on board Sam Miller, a former slave, who had received over three hundred lashes for refusing to inform on a few of his fellows who had escaped.
On passing among the men, as we were leaving the scenes of action, I inquired if they had grown any to-day. Many simultaneously exclaimed, "Oh, yes, massa, we have grown three inches!" Sam said, "I feel a heap more of a man!"
With the lurid flames still lighting up all the region behind, and the bright rays of the smiling moon before them, they formed a circle on the lower deck, and around the hatchway leading to the hold, where were the women and children captured during the day, and on bended knees they offered up sincere and heartfelt thanksgivings to Almighty God for the mercies of the day. Such fervent prayers for the President, for the hearing of his Proclamation by all in bonds, and for the ending of the war and slavery, were seldom, if ever, heard before. Those waters surely never echoed with such sounds before.
Our steamer left Beaufort without a soldier, and returned, after an absence of twelve days, with one hundred and fifty-six fighting colored men, some of whom dropped the hoe, took a musket, and were at once soldiers, ready to fight for the freedom of others.
It is conceded on all sides that, wherever our armies have had occupancy, there slavery has been practically abolished. The fact was recognized by President Lincoln in his last appeal to the loyal slave States to consummate emancipation.
Another noticeable act of our government in behalf of liberty is the official provision it makes for the wants of the thousands of helpless human beings thus thrown upon our care. Taxed with the burden of an immense war, with the care of thousands of sick and wounded, the United States government has cheerfully voted rations for helpless slaves, no less than wages to the helpful ones. The United States government pays teachers to instruct them, and overseers to guide their industrial efforts. A free-labor experiment is already in successful operation among the beautiful sea-islands in the neighborhood of Beaufort, which, even under most disadvantageous circumstances, is fast demonstrating how much more efficiently men will work from hope and liberty than from fear and constraint. Thus, even amid the roar of cannon and the confusion of war, cotton-planting, as a free-labor institution, is beginning its infant life, to grow hereafter to a glorious manhood.
Lastly, the great, decisive measure of the war has appeared, -- the President's Proclamation of Emancipation. This also has been much misunderstood and misrepresented in England. It has been said to mean virtually this: Be loyal, and you shall keep your slaves; rebel, and they shall be free.
But let us remember what we have just seen of the purpose and meaning of the Union to which the rebellious States are invited back. It is to a Union which has abolished slavery in the District of Columbia, and interdicted slavery in the Territories; which vigorously represses the slave trade, and hangs the convicted slaver as a pirate; which necessitates emancipation by denying expansion to slavery, and facilitates it by the offer of compensation. Any slave-holding States which should return to such a Union might fairly be supposed to return with the purpose of peaceable emancipation. The President's Proclamation simply means this: Come in, and emancipate peaceably with compensation; stay out, and I emancipate, not will I protect you from the consequences.
That continuance in the Union is thus understood is already made manifest by the votes of Missouri and Delaware in the recent elections. Both of these States have given strong majorities for emancipation. Missouri, long tending towards emancipation, has already planted herself firmly on the great rock of freedom, and thrown out her bold and eloquent appeal to the free States of the North for aid in overcoming the difficulties of her position. Other States will soon follow; nor is it too much to hope that, before a new year has gone far in its course, the sacred fire of freedom will have flashed along the whole line of the Border States responsive to the generous proposition of the President and Congress, and that universal emancipation will have become a fixed fact in the American Union.
Will our sisters in England feel no heart-beat at that event? Is it not one of the predicted voices of the latter day, saying under the whole heavens, "It is done: the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ"?
And now, sisters of England, in this solemn, expectant hour, let us speak to you of one thing which fills our hearts with pain and solicitude.
It is an unaccountable fact, and one which we entreat you seriously to ponder, that the party which has brought the cause of freedom thus far on its way, during the past eventful year, has found little or no support in England. Sadder than this, the party which makes slavery the chief corner-stone of its edifice finds in England its strongest defenders.
The voices that have spoken for us who contend for liberty have been few and scattering. God forbid that we should forget those few noble voices, so sadly exceptional in the general outcry against us! They are, alas, too few to be easily forgotten. False statements have blinded the minds of your community, and turned the most generous sentiments of the British heart against us. The North are fighting for supremacy, and the South for independence, has been the voice. Independence? for what? to do what? To prove the doctrine that all men are not equal. To establish the doctrine that the white may enslave the negro.
It is natural to sympathize with people who are fighting for their rights; but if these prove to be the right of selling children by the pound and trading in husbands and wives as merchantable articles, should not Englishmen think twice before giving their sympathy? A pirate ship on the high seas is fighting for independence! Let us be consistent.
It has been said that we have been over-sensitive, thin-skinned. It is one inconvenient attendant of love and respect that they do induce sensitiveness. A brother or father turning against one in the hour of trouble, a friend sleeping in the Gethsemane of our mortal anguish, does not always find us armed with divine patience. We loved England; we respected, revered her; we were bound to her by ties of blood and race. Alas! must all these declarations be written in the past tense?
But, that we may not be thought to have overestimated the popular tide against us, we shall express our sense of it in the words of an English writer, one of the noble few who have spoken the truth on our side. Referring to England's position on this question, he says: --
What is the meaning of this? Why does the English nation, which has made itself memorable to all time as the destroyer of negro slavery, which has shrunk from no sacrifices to free its own character from that odious stain, and to close all the countries of the world against the slave-merchant, -- why is it that the nation which is at the head of abolitionism not only feels no sympathy with those who are fighting against the slave-holding conspiracy, but actually desires its success? Why is the general voice of our press, the general sentiment of our people, bitterly reproachful to the North, while for the South, the aggressors in the war, we have either mild apologies or direct and downright encouragement, -- and this not only from the Tory and anti-democratic camp, but from Liberals, or soi-disant such?
This strange perversion of feeling prevails nowhere else. The public of France, and of the Continent generally, at all events the Liberal part of it, saw at once on which side were justice and moral principle, and gave its sympathies consistently and steadily to the North. Why is England an exception?
In the beginning of our struggle, the voices that reached us across the water said, "If we were only sure you were fighting for the abolition of slavery, we should not dare to say whither our sympathies for your cause might not carry us."
Such, as we heard, were the words of the honored and religious nobleman who drafted this very letter which you signed and sent to us, and to which we are now replying.
When those words reached us we said, "We can wait; our friends in England will soon see whither this conflict is tending." A year and a half have passed; step after step has been taken for liberty; chain after chain has fallen, till the march of our armies is choked and clogged by the glad flocking of emancipated slaves; the day of final emancipation is set; the Border States begin to move in voluntary consent; universal freedom for all dawns like the sun in the distant horizon: and still no voice from England. No voice? Yes, we have heard on the high seas the voice of a war steamer, built for a man-stealing Confederacy with English gold in an English dockyard, going out of an English harbor, manned by English sailors, with the full knowledge of English government officers, in defiance of the Queen's proclamation of neutrality. So far has English sympathy overflowed. We have heard of other steamers, iron-clad, designed to furnish to a slavery-defending Confederacy their only lack, -- a navy for the high seas. We have heard that the British Evangelical Alliance refuses to express sympathy with the liberating party, when requested to do so by the French Evangelical Alliance. We find in English religious newspapers all those sad degrees in the downward-sliding scale of defending and apologizing for slave-holders and slave-holding with which we have so many years contended in our own country. We find the President's Proclamation of Emancipation spoken of in those papers only as an incitement to servile insurrection. Nay, more, -- we find in your papers, from thoughtful men, the admission of the rapid decline of anti-slavery sentiments in England. Witness the following: --
The Rev. Mr. Maurice, principal of the Workingmen's College, Great Ormond Street, delivered the first general lecture of the term on Saturday evening, and took for his subject the state of English feeling on the slavery question. He said, a few days ago, in a conversation on the American war, that some gentlemen connected with the college had confessed to a change in their sympathies in the matter. On the outbreak of the war, they had been strong sympathizers with the government and the Northern States, but gradually they had drifted until they found themselves desiring the success of the seceded States, and all but free from their anti-slavery feelings and tendencies. These confessions elicited strong expressions of indignation from a gentleman present, who had lectured in the college on the war in Kansas. He (Mr. Maurice) felt inclined to share in the indignation expressed; but since, he could not help feeling that this change was very general in England.
Alas, then, England! is it so? In this day of great deeds and great heroisms, this solemn hour when the Mighty Redeemer is coming to break every yoke, do we hear such voices from England?
This very day the writer of this has been present at a solemn religious festival in the national capital, given at the home of a portion of those fugitive slaves who have fled to our lines for protection, -- who, under the shadow of our flag, find sympathy and succor. The national day of thanksgiving was there kept by over a thousand redeemed slaves, and for whom Christian charity had spread an ample repast.
Our sisters, we wish you could have witnessed the scene. We wish you could have heard the prayer of a blind old negro, called among his fellows John the Baptist, when in touching broken English he poured forth his thanksgivings. We wish you could have heard the sound of that strange rhythmical chant which is now forbidden to be sung on Southern plantations, -- the psalm of this modern exodus, -- which combines the barbaric fire of the Marseillaise with the religious fervor of the old Hebrew prophet: --
go down, Moses,
Pharoah said he would go 'cross!
Moses, stretch your hand across!
As we were leaving, an aged woman came and lifted up her hands in blessing. "Bressed be de Lord dat brought me to see dis first happy day of my life! Bressed be de Lord!" In all England is there no Amen?
We have been shocked and saddened by the question asked in an association of Congregational ministers in England, the very blood-relations of the liberty-loving Puritans, --"Why does not the North let the South go?"
What! give up the point of emancipation for these four million slaves? Turn our backs on them, and leave them to their fate? What! leave our white brothers to run a career of oppression and robbery, that, as sure as there is a God that ruleth in the armies of heaven, will bring down a day of wrath and doom?
Is it any advantage to people to be educated in man-stealing as a principle, to be taught systematically to rob the laborer of his wages, and to tread on the necks of weaker races? Who among you would wish your sons to become slave-planters, slave-merchants, slave-dealers? And shall we leave our brethren to this fate? Better a generation should die on the battlefield, that their children may grow up in liberty and justice. Yes, our sons must die, their sons must die. We give ours freely; they die to redeem the very brothers that slay them; they give their blood in expiation of this great sin, begun by you in England, perpetuated by us in America, and for which God in this great day of judgment is making inquisition in blood.
In a recent battle fell a secession colonel, the last remaining son of his mother, and she a widow. That mother had sold eleven children of an old slave mother, her servant. That servant went to her and said, "Missis, we even now. You sold all my children. God took all yourn. Not one to bury either of us. Now I forgive you."
In another battle fell the only son of another widow. Young, beautiful, heroic, brought up by his mother in the sacred doctrines of human liberty, he gave his life an offering as to a holy cause. He died. No slave woman came to tell his mother of God's justice, for many slaves have reason to call her blessed.
Now we ask you, Would you change places with that Southern mother? Would you not think it a great misfortune for a son or daughter to be brought into such a system? -- a worse one to become so perverted as to defend it? Remember, then, that wishing success to this slavery-establishing effort is only wishing to the sons and daughters of the South all the curses that God has written against oppression. Mark our words! If we succeed, the children of these very men who are now fighting us will rise up to call us blessed. Just as surely as there is a God who governs in the world, so surely all the laws of national prosperity follow in the train of equity; and if we succeed, we shall have delivered the children's children of our misguided brethren from the wages of sin, which is always and everywhere death.
And now, sisters of England, think it not strange if we bring back the words of your letter, not in bitterness but in deepest sadness, and lay them down at your door. We say to you: Sisters, you have spoken well; we have heard you; we have heeded; we have striven in the cause, even unto death. We have sealed our devotion by desolate hearth and darkened homestead, -- by the blood of sons, husbands, and brothers. In many of our dwellings the very light of our lives has gone out; and yet we accept the lifelong darkness as our own part in this great and awful expiation, by which the bonds of wickedness shall be loosed, and abiding peace established on the foundation of righteousness. Sisters, what have you done; and what do you mean to do?
In view of the decline of the noble anti-slavery fire in England, in view of all the facts and admissions recited from your own papers, we beg leave in solemn sadness to return to you your own words: --
"A common origin, a common faith, and, we sincerely believe, a common cause, urge us, at the present moment, to address you on the subject" of that fearful encourage-ment and support which is being afforded by England to a slave-holding Confederacy.
We will not dwell on the ordinary topics, -- on the progress of civilization, on the advance of freedom everywhere, on the rights and requirements of the nineteenth century; but we appeal to you very seriously to reflect, and to ask counsel of God how far such a state of things is in accordance with his Holy Word, the inalienable rights of immortal souls, and the pure and merciful spirit of the Christian religion.
We appeal to you, as sisters, as wives, and as mothers, to raise your voices to your fellow citizens, and your prayers to God, for the removal of this affliction and disgrace from the Christian world.
In behalf of many thousands of American women,
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Washington, November 27, 1862