Letter XVII—End of Slavery in the District of Columbia—Condition of the South—Fugitive Slaves and “Under-Ground Railroad.”
WASHINGTON, July 23, 18[illegible] –Though no law of Congress has been enacted to abolish slavery in this Federal District, it has been virtually effected. The great influence of numerous Abolition missionaries and agents in this city, including all the Northern members of Congress and officeholders, together with the presence of foreign officials of negro race, with other incidental causes, all have served to render the slaves here discontented and disposed to insubordination. All who chose to flee to the North had ample facilities, including the personal aid of men in Government offices or in Congress—and very many availed themselves of these means for escape. The owners of others, who were not willing to lose their slaves, sent them to the Southern States for sale or employment. Many others, more indulgent, and also themselves impressed with anti-slavery doctrines, or to gain favor from the Administration and the party dispensing all the favors of Government, either emancipated their mutinous and almost worthless slaves, or accepted from them very low prices for their legal sale and emancipation. From all these causes, this city and the District of Columbia are now no longer slave-holding. The free negros are increasing by fugitives from the South and immigrants from the North, who are dangerous neighbors to the surrounding slave population of Maryland the Virginia. Besides all the more private instruction, every Sunday there are sermons preached by Northern preachers, including among them the Chaplains to Congress, in which the iniquity of slavery and slaveholding, and indirectly the incitements to servile insurrection, are set forth and urged with all the zeal and vehemence that could be looked for in Boston or New York, formerly, from a PARKER, a BEECHER, or a CHEEVER. If the subordination of the slaves of Maryland and Virginia can be maintained under these and all other hostile operations of Abolitionists, there must be (as Southerners maintain) in the negro race dispositions to cheerful contentment, and of affectionate loyalty to their superiors, that cannot be found in any lower class of the free white subjects of any Government of Europe.
The complaints of the people of the Southern States have been much increased by governmental action of the late session. The strength of the Northern section and of the Administration will be thereby greatly increased. And while there has been no direct violation of the provisions and checks of the Constitution, since the sectional Northern party attained to undisputed supremacy, yet, constitutional powers have been so used, that not a shadow of political power, or a benefit from the Government, is left to the subjected Southern section. Still, the thorough submissionists of the South, while in words loudly protesting against all their wrongs, maintain that they have the sanction of the Constitution, and that so long as the constitutional safeguards are respected, the people of the South have no right to resist legal burdens, or to oppose the imposition of hardships, except by their votes. The waiters, real or pretended, for an “overt act” of constitutional infraction to justify resistance, or succession, have at last learned that the dominant and oppressing party had no need to supply them with any such “overt” ground or justification for resistance, and that the Administration has cautiously avoided all approach to furnishing any. These former waiters have now abandoned their useless ground; and those who are sincere have gone over to the advocates for secession, and those who assumed that ground for disguire are, as they always should have been, among the submissionists, in practice, to every successive federal aggression and wrong. But it is very difficult, and almost impossible, for any people to be aroused to resistance to its Government, by reasoning on their rights and wrongs, when no immediate or personal injury has been felt as severely oppressive. It requires something practical, or individual tyranny and of individual sufferings, to around the sluggish popular mind. In this way, the violent and bloody inroad of JOHN BROWN, and the consequent sacrifice of the lives of but three or four citizens, quickly as the outrage was suppressed, caused more Southern excitement than all other legal wrongs inflicted previously by the North. But that effervescence was not more violent than it was transient. In six months nothing of its effects remained, except the previous enactments in Virginia and some other of the more Southern States, to arm and train portions of the militia. Owing mainly to that provocation, and the supposed danger of the recurrence of such conspiracies and assaults of Northern Abolitionists, the military condition of the South has been greatly strengthened. These and other such measures for military or other State defence were opposed at the South by conservatives and submissionists, as preparations and means for subsequent disunion. But it is remarkable that the Northern people did not charge, nor seem to suspect, any such design. They ascribed all the military preparations to the fears of the Southern people of insurrections of their own slaves; and the greater these preparations were, then and since, the more were they deemed evidences of the weakness and timidity of the Southerners, and of their inability to reist [sic] their own slaves, whenever the North might choose to encourage their insurrection.
As might well have been anticipated, from the causes operating, there has been great increase of the number of slaves escaping from the South to the Northern States, and to Canada, in the last year. These losses have been especially greater near to this federal district, and to all the military and naval stations of this government. The losses, and the greater danger apprehended for the future, have still more increased the soreness and exasperation of the Southern mind. The organized associations in the North, for inviting the escape, and transporting fugitive slaves from the South to the North, which has been so long in active operation, has continued to increase in numbers of members, in amount of funds, and in effect. The seduction and removal of fugitive slaves employ numerous secret agents. Many are resident in the South, who secretly incite the flight of slaves, and arrange the manner of their escape. Other agents provide modes of conveyance—first to, and next through, the nearest Free State—and thence to Canada, if deemed necessary for complete immunity of the slaves, and also of their aids and guards. Whatever may be the various modes and routes of such conveyance of fugitive slaves, whether by railroads, vessels or private carriages, it is commonly expressed that the escape was inside on the “Underground Railroad.” And never were the business and success of this “Railroad” so great as within the past six months.