Friday, January 6, 2017

Mr. Newman on the Slave States

Mr. Francis Newman has just written for the Manchester Union and Emancipation Society a pamphlet called the Character of the Southern States of America. It purports, on the title-page, to be a letter to a friend who had joined the Southern Independence Association, and an advertisement prefixed to the pamphlet adds that it is part only of what was produced by his friend's letter. It is in every way a remarkable production, and deserves to be read by those who wish to know what view the extreme advocates of the North take of their opponents, in order that they may form some sort of conception of the view which the Southerners are likely to take of them. It also contains various criticisms on our own national conduct, which are perhaps even more interesting.

Mr. Newman begins by saying that he has been “thought extravagant in comparing the Slave Power to Thugs, cannibals, and buccaneers.” This he justifies. As to the buccaneers, he observes that all the filibustering expeditions undertaken or suggested by the Americans were urged in the interests of the slave-owners, and for the sake of extending slavery; for which reason the Southerners in general are worse than buccaneers. As for the Thugs, “They were a religious community which, with plausible and amiable manners, combined one fanatical and pestilential doctrine, that they had a divine right to murder and plunder innocent travellers.” Which of us, he asks, would not prefer being so murdered and plundered to being caught and sold by an American for a slave? “If I were to go on a slave-trading venture,” says Mr. Newman, “our law would pronounce me a felon, and (I rather think) would hang me. What more would it do to a Thug?” Therefore the Southerners are worse than Thugs. “As to cannibals, these seem to me, in comparison with the Slave Power, only rude and almost innocent barbarians.” Mr. Newman, then proceeds with painful, but it must be owned justifiable, plainness of speech to describe what is no doubt the worst and most hateful feature of slavery—its sexual results. He fairly describes the enormity of a man's selling his own children, and of other revolting incidents of a system which treats human beings as chattels. After dwelling on this subject, and on what he describes as the “right of rape" (a phrase more expressive than exact), he adds, “I confess, though can manage to write with perfect calmness on these things, I cannot speak calmly. My heart often becomes like a volcano. I do not see how it can be otherwise with any honest man who knows the facts.” He dwells on “the beautiful quadroon writhing under the whip,” and indignantly adds, “And then, perhaps, if my words are choked and hurried, and my eyes gleam with fierceness, you suppose my judgment to be disordered and fanatical.”

So much for Mr. Newman's views of the South. His friend, it would seem, had questioned his right to his opinion on the ground that the evidence of its truth was insufficient. Mr. Newman, in reply, enumerates various sources from which information might be obtained. Whether his own impressions on the subject that causes the “choked and hurried" words, and the eyes that “gleam with fierceness,” are derived from an impartial study of the facts or from testimonies so selected as to confirm a strong previous opinion may, perhaps, be inferred from a glance at the three witnesses to whom he specially appeals in respect to the condition of the planting States. The first is “Mrs. Fanny Kemble, an unexceptionable witness concerning the estate of her own husband in South Carolina.” The second is “Judge Winter of Georgia, a refugee driven out in the beginning of the war for his attachment to the Union. He has publicly stated that he has taken note of more than five hundred murders of coloured men committed within his own range, and in not one case was the murderer brought into Court.” The “third witness is General Benjamin Butler, whom no one will accuse of mawkish philanthropy.” General Butler, we are told, was formerly a “Hunker,” or Pro-slavery Democrat, and a personal friend of Jefferson Davis, but when he went to New Orleans his eyes were opened. “He had to make judicial decisions, and he discovered by the sworn evidence of white men the actual state of things. He was converted by the facts themselves, and became an Abolitionist.”

A writer who comes before English readers with the admission that, under any circumstances whatever, he gets too excited to speak coolly, makes himself absurd if he does not also take care to have proof that he gets excited upon good grounds. Strong passions are respectable only when they are guided by a strong judgment, and what is to be thought of the judgment of a man who attaches any weight at all to such witnesses on such questions? Mrs. Kemble might perhaps be an unexceptionable witness on some other subjects; but where her feelings are excited, and she gets a chance of saying something unpleasant “concerning the estate of her own husband,” it is difficult not to feel that the repudiation of her husband's name is not the sort of step which entitles her to credit when she speaks of the state of his affairs. As to Judge Winter—the gentleman who proves five hundred murders by a single sentence—Mr. Newman appears to think that the fact that he is a refugee from the South specially qualifies him to give an impartial account of the state of things existing there. Perhaps, however, the most astonishing witness is General Butler. Whether he deserves all or any considerable part of the obloquy he gets from the South, we do not now stop to inquire. Choking accents, and eyes gleaming with fury, are little to our taste wherever they show themselves. Nay, we entertain a certain respect for people who think and speak coolly even under provocation, and probably General Butler does not get quite fairly judged by the people of New Orleans; but who can believe that, having for years been a Hunker or Pro-slavery Democrat, he was really converted by “the sworn evidence of whites?” Can it be any sin against charity to believe that he saw that the extreme party was likely to be the successful one, and that he went for it accordingly? The simplicity which not only attaches importance to the conversion of a politician to the party which is coming into power, but supposes that others are capable of doing the same, gives the measure of Mr. Newman's capacity for practical inquiries, and enables us to estimate at their real value the fact that his voice chokes and his eyes gleam with fury when he thinks of the South.

Reverting from the subject of his power of weighing evidence to the conclusions which he draws from it, let us consider for a moment the value of his dispassionate, perfectly calm, and deliberate opinion, that the Southerners are worse than buccaneers, cannibals, and Thugs. Of course, Mr. Newman, with the natural feelings of a gentleman, does not like to be suspected of calling names, but it would really be less to his discredit to be convicted of intemperance of language than to be convicted of such absurdity as the deliberate holding of the opinion which he advances. It seems absurd to argue in earnest that the Southerners are not worse than Thugs, pirates, and cannibals, but since Mr. Newman raises the question seriously it is due to him to say a word on it. The objection to Thugs and pirates is that they openly repudiate, in theory and in practice, the first principles of morality, and make open war on the human race. Now allow slavery to be as bad as you please, still it does not do that. It no doubt involves dreadful evils. Its sexual results in particular are horrible, and not to be excused or palliated; but though Mr. Newman may be right in his belief that they do occur, and though it would be hard to speak too strongly of their enormity, no slaveholder would ever think of formally justifying them. Many would deny their existence; others would admit and deplore it, and suggest remedies—futile perhaps and impracticable; all would say that such practices are immoral, and are so considered by the established creed of the country, though that creed , may be inoperative or less active than it should be. Probably not a single man, except, perhaps, here and there an accomplished Southern gentleman, highly educated and intensely sensitive, who could not speak of the North without a choking voice and an eye gleaming with fury, and whose friends were apt to consider his judgment disordered and fanatical, would be found to say that, such things are eternally right because they are essential to slavery. The great objection to American slavery is, that it undoubtedly does powerfully tempt the politicians of the country to buccaneering enterprises, that it does lead the population to set a light value on human life, and to regard their fellow creatures as mere instruments of pleasure or profit; but Thugs and pirates adopt these things as a system which they justify. Suppose the Southern Congress were to pass an Act as follows:– Section I. Piracy is declared lawful, and we pledge ourselves to practise it on all occasions; Section 2. It shall be lawful for all Southern citizens to practise Thuggee in every part of the Confederate States; Section 3. The negroes, being cattle, shall be eaten accordingly; Section In consideration of the provisions hereinbefore contained, slavery is abolished. If such an Act became law, Mr. Newman would be bound to contend that the Southerners had made a great step in civilization, and ought to be praised by the rest of the world. If it were not for the way in which it has pleased him to write, it would be an insult to his understanding to ask him whether he thinks that under such a code the lot of the world in general, or that of negroes in particular, would be better than it is at present. The first article would legalize slave-trading, plus every other sort of sea-robbery. The second would, of course, enable every one to extort service, or to ravish, or to do whatever else he pleased by the threat of death, and the infliction either of that extreme penalty or anything short of it. As to the third, its importance would depend considerably on the question whether the Southerners would be as temperate as the Scotch shepherds, and be contented with braxy nigger. If so, all that could be said would be that there is no accounting for taste. If eating involved killing for the sake of eating, it is hard to deny that cannibalism so understood would be an aggravation of the lot of the slaves. It is difficult to be serious on such a point, but if Mr. Newman really means what he says, he must admit that our proposed Act would be a measure of reform, a step in the right direction.

About half of Mr. Newman's pamphlet is pervaded by a set of little snorts at England and things English, the gist of which is, that a contrast between our conduct towards America and our conduct towards the Sepoy mutineers proves that “the ruling classes of England have one morality for themselves and another for free republics.” What, he asks, should we English have thought if the Americans had recognised the Great Mogul, and issued a declaration of neutrality? No doubt, “if pirates or mutineers become very powerful, we cannot shut our eyes to this matter of fact; and if we get into war with them, we must call it war, and deal with them by the laws of war, which we criminally refused to do in the Indian mutiny.” He adds elsewhere—“I cannot forget that the Queen's Ministry was so far from recognising the Great Mogul or the Princes of Oude as ‘belligerent,’ that it treated the former as a felon, and sent him to a penal settlement, and winked at his sons having been shot in cold blood, when they had, without compulsion, entrusted themselves to the honour of an English officer.” They had, however, done no such thing. With that base cowardice which is the natural result of base wickedness, they obeyed the orders which an English officer had the heroic courage to issue, and they were shot dead to avoid a rescue. “You cannot doubt,” he adds, “that a frenzy of rage would have swept, through England if the American Government had declared the Great Mogul to be belligerent in the summer of 1857, and thereby enabled his agents to buy arms, and ships at New York.” He further observes that it is as dishonest to conceal the fact that many of the Southern leaders had sworn allegiance to the United States, as it would have been to conceal the fact that the mutineers in India were under an oath of allegiance to Queen Victoria.

Put together, these remarks—which are introduced by the way in order to slap the English o in the face, and point the pretty moral stated above as to the habits of the governing classes—may be resolved into the following propositions:— 1. The Southerners are rebels, having violated an oath of allegiance. 2. The Americans have the same right to complain of our proclamation of neutrality as we should have had to complain of a similar one in the year 1857, in favour of the Great Mogul. 3. We were criminal in refusing to recognise the Sepoy mutineers as belligerents entitled to the usages of war. Each of these propositions is a marvellous illustration of the feebleness with which accomplished men can think and write on subjects which excite their passions to such an extent as to set their eyes gleaming with fury.  As to the first—does any sensible man suppose that oaths of allegiance ever alter an antecedent obligation? If secession was right, it is idle to say that every man who ever held office under the United States was bound in conscience not to secede. If it was wrong, the fact that a man had held office made it no worse. Suppose Washington had taken an oath of allegiance to George III., as he probably did when he served under Braddock, would that fact detract from his fame? It is the great argument against oaths of allegiance that they are useless and impossible to construe, for what is the true allegiance to which people always swear? Of course it is rightful allegiance, and who is to say when allegiance, i.e. submission, is rightful? The crime of the Sepoys arose not from their oath, but from their personal treachery. They were our soldiers, provided by us with the arms and discipline which, without notice or warning, they treacherously turned against us. If they had not been sworn, their case would have been just as bad. It is highly probable that some of the leaders of the Secession movement may have been guilty of personal treachery to the United States. Every one in arms has probably been guilty of the crime of high treason against that Government, and may be hung for it, unless, indeed, secession was legal under the Constitution—a question by no means so clear as Mr. Newman appears to consider it. The treachery must in any event be reprobated, and is reprobated by every Englishman who believes in the fact; but it is the personal offence of some of the leaders, and does not apply to the bulk of the population. The legal criminality, the liability to be hung, has nothing whatever to, do with the merits of the case in a moral point of view.

The second proposition, which puts our declaration of neutrality on the same footing as a supposed declaration of the same sort in favour of the Great Mogul, is perfectly silly. The seceding States declared that their Government was independent of the United States Government. They occupied, and still occupy, a large, distinct territory of their own, with a regular Government and regular armies. They have a large seaboard, many ports, and a set of cruisers actually at sea. Under these circumstances, it was absolutely necessary that we should take some step regarding them. We must either declare them rebels and pirates, or declare our neutrality. What right had we to commit ourselves to one view of an extremely complicated constitutional question which did not concern us more than others, and brand them as pirates? Would the rest of Europe have done so? Is France as wicked as we, or has Mr. Newman no eyes for other wickedness than that of the governing classes of his own country? Between this state of things and that which existed in the Indian mutiny, there is absolutely no analogy. If we had been driven out of India—if the miserable old King of Delhi, who never had any power at all either before or during the revolt, had assumed the sovereignty of the Peninsula, declared his independence, and sent out cruisers against our commerce—the parallel would have existed, and no reasonable Englishman could then have complained of a declaration of neutrality, though even then it would have been an innovation on the part of any nation of European descent to give such a recognition to a potentate outside the pale of international law. If Canada, or Ireland, or Australia proclaimed its independence, we should be lucky indeed if we got a declaration of neutrality from the United States. The true parallel to such a declaration in favour of the Sepoy mutineers would have been a declaration of neutrality in favour of the New York rioters. The Sepoys not only never proclaimed their independence, but they never had any ostensible country or assignable territory which they could affirm to be independent.

As to the proposition that it was “criminal” in us to refuse belligerent rights to the Sepoys, it is not merely impertinent but childish. If Mr. Newman is in such a furious passion that he cannot see how General Lee's army differs from the gang of murderers who expiated with their lives the massacres of Delhi and Cawnpore, we cannot show him the difference. We may, however, observe that the recognition of belligerent rights by a foreign and by a home, Government are totally different things. It does not follow that, because we are right in treating the Confederates as belligerents, the Federals are wrong in treating them as rebels. If they can catch Mr. Jefferson Davis, and hang him, that is their affair; but, even if we approved of that, it would not follow that we ought to hang Captain Semmes or Maffitt as pirates, if they came into our harbours.

Mr. Newman's eminence is our only excuse for noticing so feeble a production at such length, but it is as well to see what sort of stuff fanaticism is made of. It is as well to go up to a ghost whose eyes gleam with fury, to see whether, after all, it is anything more formidable than a hollow turnip illuminated by a farthing dip.

Saturday Review, January 2, 1864.

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