AN ANCIENT AND A MODERN COMPROMISE.
A Discourse by Rev. M.D. Conway, delivered in the First Congregational Church, Cincinnati, March 24, 1861.
We hear much, now-a-days, of compromises. We are called on, in the name of patriotism, to remember that the Constitution of our country was a compromise. Unfortunately it was; and to-day we reap the harvest of such seed; to-day we may read, unless secession has robbed us of self-possession, that those who begin with the compromise of Principle have given themselves to the toils of a glittering, bright-eyed, golden-scaled serpent, which must inevitably crush them at last. See, before you, Americans! The consequences of a compromise proposed and accepted, in the weakness, dissolution and earth whereinto the nation is plunged from the graceful eddies and whirls of compromise!
Now let us turn into the past, and consider an instance and lesson of another kind; an instance of a compromise proposed and rejected, and the consequences of the same.
Here is the compromise proposed:--
“The Devil taketh him into an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; and saith unto him, all these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me!”
And here is the compromise rejected:--
“Then said Jesus, ‘Get thee behind me, Satan.’”
And finally, here are the consequences:--
“Then the Devil leaveth him, and behold angels came and ministered unto him.”
My friends, it is only in crystals that one sees plainly any mingled substance which is interior. You cannot see a speck of dirt in the heart of a pebble, but you can see it clearly in the heart of a pure crystal. It is so with the evil at the heart of this country. The wrongs which for ages lay unobserved in the stony heart of absolutism and ignorance, preserved now in the centre of a Republic, discolor all the rays shining through it. Our faith and courage in these times will be in proportion to our realization of the fact, that our failure is a sign not of weakness so much as of strength. Were the age meaner, its claim would not be, as it is now, beyond the ordinary satisfaction of circumstances. Had the evil which afflicts us a tongue, it would say: “Surely you have grown very sophisticated and fastidious. Read your school-histories over again, and see what age was exempt from injustice and violence, war and slavery. Are you not making, in this generation, a great deal of noise over evil that your ancestors sat very quietly under?” Certainly we are. We stand upon our advantage as proudly as did the young Goethe, of whom it is related that, when six years old, he plagued his mother with questions as to whether the stars would perform for him all that, according to some fortune-teller, they had promised at his birth. “Why,” said the mother, “must you have the assistance of the stars, when other people get on very well without?” To this the terrible child replied: “But I am not to be satisfied with what does for other people.” So the humblest man in Christendom to-day puts his foot upon such a Government as Jesus and Paul rested quietly under; so the poorest American is too high to be satisfied with what suits an Austrian. Centuries of rain and sunshine are not so wasted on the vineyard of God, where nations of men climb to clusters. Therefore, although the country was never so disturbed before in its immediate interests, it was never so high as now. This sundering of a great Confederacy—this panic, fallen upon all our material interests—this division of the large Church bodies—all testify gloriously how large Church bodies—all testify gloriously how large a price a young nation is willing to pay for a principle. Never more fitly could it be called a chosen people of God than now, when it says, “yes, we are ready to press out even into a forty-years wilderness, following the guiding Pillar of Liberty, whether it turn to us its fiery or its clouded side!” May we not even call it the Messias of Nations, as it stands out in the wilderness, hungry as ever for wealth and plenty, but obeying the spirit which leads it to the trial of its faith in justice and liberty?
This is no metaphor, my brothers: it is a momentous reality. America is to-day in the wilderness of temptation, and beside us is the tempter.
Up into the mountain the tempter leads us—the exceeding high mountain of our national greatness and pride. From that apex, ready to crumble under our feet, how keenly the kingdoms of this world and their glories strike the senses! On one side, the kingdom of political unity; on another, the kingdom of cotton; near by, the realms of trade; and there, the kingdom of ecclesiastical power. The tempter never slumbers so long as God is awake. “What is it,” he whispers, “that divides your nation? What is it that prevents cotton from [illegible] [illegible] [illegible] [illegible] [illegible] trade? What is it that sunders every Church? It is your hatred of African Slavery. It is your love of freedom. Only give over these; only consent to the fetter on the limbs of the black man; and see all these kingdoms are yours, with all their glories! See, the nation is one again: the coffer is full. The Church’s wounds are healed so soon as Northern and Southern Christians consent to kneel around a common altar, there to eat the broken body and drink the shed blood of the African race. All these shall be yours,” says the tempter, “if only ye will turn from the shrine of Liberty, and worship Slavery; and you may call your idol patriotism, union, concession, compromise, fraternal feeling, peace, or any other find name you please.”
I hold in my hand a pamphlet, which I learn is having a considerable circulation in this city and State, entitled—“THE UNION: HOW SHALL IT BE RECONSTRUCTED AND SAVED? A LETTER TO THE PUBLIC. By Sabin Hough, of Cincinnati, Ohio.” I intend to allude to it to some extent, because it is the only publication I have ever seen which embodies in one expression every mean and evil thing that was ever said to persuade men to surrender manhood, and consecrate themselves to injustice. A writer in Milwaukee has said that he cannot conceive how it could have been written, except under some infatuation from the Devil; and I freely admit that it is the first strong argument I have ever met with for the personal existence of that celebrated potentate whose existence I have long thought mythical.
As we gather from this letter, its author is a reverend. Of course he is. He is a native of New England, and has lived always in the free States. Of course, again. Then he is a minister of the New Church, and editor of its organ in the West; he brings us a new revelation from behind the vail. His God is a vast man; of whom Cuffee is a charcoal sketch. He is one who, when finding a man fallen among thieves, stripped and wounded, like the robbed and wronged slave, for example, believes that oil and wine poured in should be such a comforting doctrine and robbers and wounds in general, that the man should crave a few more stabs for “the good of truth.” I doubt not that if a hunted slave stood at his door, hi humanist impulses, drugged by something he thinks religion would lead him to console the fugitive with a copy of this pamphlet, and return him to the master, who would represent “the receptivity of good.”
The pamphlet reviews several of the alleged causes of the trouble that is now upon the land, and sets them one by one aside. The personal liberty bills of the North have done much mischief in engendering hostile feelings; but they are a small part of the evil. How curious, by the way, it is, that so few hit on the only true way of abolishing those ugly personal liberty bills of the free States—namely: abolishing the personal slavery bills of the South! Both of these expurgations will have to take place together; if not on statute paper, yet in fact.
The Rev. Mr. Hough then goes on to say that it is not fear of servile insurrection on the part of the South that causes secession: “Any great or general uprising or revolt is,” he says, “impossible, and no fears of any such catastrophe are entertained. As a general fact, a deep and strong attachment prevails between masters and servants, and there is a great unwillingness on either side to terminate the relation.” This boundless affection of slaves for their masters, amounting almost to infatuation, is evident from the rarity of fugitives in New England and Canada; the scarcity of those who go about this city seeking to buy themselves or their families! (No doubt, however, this reverend never was nor will be approached by one.) Pity he should have spoiled this beautiful picture of mutual affection between masters and slave, by forgetting it in the later assertion that the slave-owners “believe that these denunciations, coming as they often do to the ears of their servants, do them great injury, and compel a greater severity of restraint than would otherwise be needed.” This would suggest that the links of affection, all along supposed to be somewhat golden, are fast becoming iron. Neither, says our interpreter, is the election of Mr. Lincoln the cause of this disturbance; “as well might you suppose that the broken fragments tossed about by a whirlwind are the cause of the storm.” No, the key-note of the howling storm is for the first time touched “when we point to the denunciation of slavery as a sin. This deadly blow,” he adds, “aimed at the conscience and heart, is what threatens to break asunder this Union.” Here we pause for a moment, refreshed by a breath of truth. This is the seat of the matter. We admit it without going through any of the pages in which our author seeks to prove that this charge against slavery as a sin comes down “not from a few voices, pulpits, presses or pens, but from large and small guns in thunders and whispers, from pulpits,” &c., &c. I will quote in public only what I must of this pamphlet; for really, I have no ill-will to its author. Therefore, we admit that the ultimate cause of disunion in America is the voice of the civilized world thundered down from a hundred centuries, declaring human slavery a sin against God and man.
“This spirit, which delights in accusing the slaveholding people of this country, has grown up from a small beginning, grown rapidly, and attained huge dimensions. It has fierce eyes and long arms, large ears on one side and none on the other, and walks up and down through the land like a giant. It has found its way into the halls of our National Assembly, and by some magic process, opened avenues to the regions below. Through the opening thus made, large numbers of the people down there have come up to take a hand in managing the affairs of the nation.”
You understand what “region below” means? It means the hells, the order of infernals—a metaphor taken form the Museum on Sycamore street. It hints that Satan is now a member of the Cabinet. Sumner, we find, has theorized, and Beecher exhorted, and John Brown executed: and these three are a kind of unholy trinity, under whose inspiration an anti-slavery demon is enthroned in America. Whereupon the angelic South secedes.
The writer then grapples with the root of the trouble at once, taking the ground that slavery is not an evil at all, but on the contrary a good Christian institution. The statements made in this direction I will classify under the heads—first, untruths; second, fatuities.
“Every conceivable experiment, designed to better their condition, in a state of release from direct supervision and control, has been tried, and thus far proved a failure. In every instance, they have deteriorated, and gone backward toward their former savage condition. Of course, we refer to general, not to specific or individual examples. A few, perhaps one in ten, of the American slaves, in the state now attained might be safely trusted to provide for themselves and families; but even in these cases there would be danger, amounting to a strong probability, that the most of their children, after one or two generations, would go back to a condition much worse than servitude.”
This is simply untrue. A colored beggar, except for help to get himself or his household free, is extremely rare. In this city, twenty suffering white families can be shown, for one colored—allowing for the disproportion in number. There are several colored families here that I can show any one, who came from the same place that I did in Virginia, and are doing very well here—much better than there, where their homes were among the very best in the State. Some years ago, I myself visited the chief cities of Canada, and their negro-quarters, and learned from their own lips, and those of the Mayors and the Governor, and from my own eyes, the utter falsity of the reports that the negroes were a suffering or retrogressive people in Canada—even there, where the climate might justify it. Let this writer go to the colored schools of this city, and the Sunday schools, to see his own slander of this race, and the effects of freedom on a second or third generation refuted.
“The institution called slavery has been the means of developing the resources of the Southern country, and pouring into the treasuries of wealth and comfort larger and more abundant contributions than have been yielded from the soil of any other portion of the globe; and while doing this, the moral and physical condition of the negroes, as well as their numbers, have been rapidly increasing.”
The untruth of this is self-evident. One hundred millions of unmined metals in Virginia; a dozen long, falling rivers, with not so many factories; half a State undrained and sickly—these tell how slavery, a garden-spot being given, “develops its resources.”
“It ought to be mentioned that there is, with many persons, an absurd misapprehension as to the real meaning of the legal terms which recognize slaves as servant, and that on rigid conditions, which the civil magistrate, who is his master, is not reluctant to enforce. The slave must have good and clothing, and, within certain prescribed limits, other things needed for his comfort, and must not be inhumanly treated. If sickness or misfortune befall them, and he becomes unable to labor, he has still a provision for life; not in the poor-house, but from his master’s estate, till that is exhausted. The simple truth, in regard to this master, after making allowance for many abuses and disorders that exist, but are rapidly diminishing, is, that the master owns, controls, and directs the labor of his servant, and gives him in return, as a general rule, a larger and better reward than he would obtain under any other conditions of life.”
In noticing this, it is hard to refrain from using a much harsher term than “untruth.” The cold-blooded and deliberate character of this misstatement can only be mitigated by presupposing an ignorance almost brutal. The Slave Codes are plain and public; they make, and must of necessity make, the slave a chattel. That is not my own property, which I cannot buy and sell and use as I please. True, a man cannot kill his slave with impunity, neither can he set his own house on fire; but the house can testify against him in court as much as the slave. Five hundred slaves on a plantation seeing a man maltreat, violate, or murder one of their number, would, in a court-room, by the laws of all the States, be no more than so many oxen which had witnessed the deed.
2. Fatuities. These are, for the most part, religious. In attempting to prove the divinity of slavery, our editor says:--
“The relation of master and servant has existed from the most remote periods of history. We mean just that relation in which service for life is owned, controlled and perpetuated. The abuses incidental to this relation, and the evils done in its name, were a hundred-fold greater than now, during the entire period in which the sacred Scriptures were written, and yet we find no command forbidding the relation itself. Many precepts recognize it, and guard against its abuses, or indicate what classes of persons may be held as servants, but no one passage intimates an absolute prohibition. Sins of every character are enumerated and forbidden, but this is not among them.
If the Lord had intended us to regard and treat this relation as a sin against the ordinances of Heaven, some law to that effect would be found in His Word; some clear and specific law, which no one could misunderstand. Such is the case in regard to other sins. All who commit them know that they are disobeying the Commandments of God.”
Coeval with slavery, and coextensive therewith in the time and country of Jesus and His Apostles, existed the institutions of polygamy and concubinage; the latter a legitimation of slavery always and everywhere. But you will look in vain through the New Testament for one word to show that a man should have only one wife. St. Paul writes a great deal about marriage and its laws; and his only limitation, as to numbers, is in the case of Bishops. A Bishop, he says, should be the husband of one wife. This rather implies that others might have more. Vainly will you look in the Bible for any rebuke of polygamy; vainly, also, for any rebuke of an absolute monarchy. Are we therefore to agree that they are right, and roll back the tide of civilization till the sharp black rocks of barbarism reappear? We expect no catalogue of crimes from Jesus. “Love God and man,” points a rebuke at all. From this general method he sometimes departs, as when he guards his followers not to be masters—“For ye are all brothers.” Also, he tells them, to take care and not be called Rabbi, i.e., Reverend.
We are then reminded, in this pamphlet, of the example of Abraham. But why his slaveholding is a whit more respectable than his having concubines, or than his making out that his wife was only his sisters, so that she might be more attractive to the king, and he safer through her shame, we are not informed.
We are then furnished with quotations from the ancient Hebrew slave codes. But why the old Jewish laws protecting slavery are more to be respected than those which inflicted the death penalty for marrying a foreigner, or picking up sticks on the Sabbath, we are not told. Suppose “man-servant” and “maid-servant” are mentioned, even in the Decalogue—so, also, in the same, a man’s wife is called his property along with his ox and ass. Is that a sound “conjugal” idea? In that same Decalogue we are told that God is jealous, and visits the sins of fathers upon their children—which is to ascribe to Him a low, selfish passion, and also injustice.