New York Times, "Philanthropy and Cotton," March 2, 1857

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“Philanthropy and Cotton,” New York Times, March 2, 1857, p. 4: 4-5.
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New York Daily Times
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Philanthropy and Cotton
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Leah Suhrstedt, Dickinson College
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The following text is presented here in complete form, as it originally appeared in print.  Spelling and other typographical errors have been preserved as in the original.

Philanthropy and Cotton.

The London Times has recently taken occasion, in an article which we quoted on Thursday morning, to twit the English people upon their inconsistency in denouncing American Slavery, while wearing calico garments. There is no doubt that in touching upon this point, it has hit one of the great weaknesses of the philanthropic world in general; but we deny in toto that a conscientious opposition to Slavery demands a total disuse of slave-grown Cotton. No abolitionist that we ever heard of was animated by intense antipathy to the cotton plant, to the custom of boeing at its roots, or of picking its seeds. Cotton never yet was per se the means of making a man poor, or leaving his wife a widow. Evil does not lark in its bulbs, or blow out in its blossom. There is nothing in it, or of necessity connected with it, to prevent its being associated with ideas of peace, freedom and contentment. It already brings happiness and plenty to a hundred thousand homes. There is no valid reason why it should not bring them a million more.

No sober-minded opponent of Slave labor, either here of in England, ever conceded the principle that Cotton can only be raised by slaves; and it is only on the supposition that this had been conceded by them, that the taunts of the Times can have any good foundation. If they granted that Cotton could only be cultivated by slaves, and that if England ceased to purchase it, Slavery would immediately become extinct, they would at once lay themselves open to the charge of inconsistency if they did not immediately eschew calico. But it has always been asserted by moderate Anti-Slavery men on both sides of the water, that free labor can supply the market even better than it is supplied at present.

The sneer of the Times is based on one of those monstrous absurdities of which people of no opinions are constantly guilty. The argumentum ad hominem is one of the easiest processes in dialectics. It is useful enough when the only object in view is to set a table in roar; but to employ it in passing judgment upon human hopes and aspirations, human struggles after a better life, human sympathies with right, and truth, and justice, is proof of a cold heart and a shallow wit. To apply this test to the work of every-day life, is to ask every man to put on helmet and cuirass, mount a Rosinante and turn knight-errant. There is no reason whatever for confining this curious theory of consistency to Cotton, If it be good, everyone who denounces despotism should demand written guarantees that the string with which he ties his parcel is not made of Russian hemp, that his candles are not made of Russian fallow, that the corn in his bread has not been raised by serfs, that the sailors were well treated on board the ship by which all these commodities came to hand, and in addition to all this, start with a Minié rifle for Warsaw, and in the cause of dear Poland take a “good shot” at the Imperial Governor. A peaceman in England should, on this principle, refuse to enjoy his life, liberty and property, repudiate his wife, pull down his house, and stop his newspaper, because all these blessings had been secured to him intact and entire by fleets, and armies, and bloodshed. We must not stop at Cotton. Corn from the Volga and the Dnioper is equally objectionable. The interest of the Turkish loan is wrung from wretched rajahs by kicks and blows, and plunder. Danubian maize is imported by Greek knaves. The trade of the Levant is, to a great extent, carried on in the barks of pirates. Arab horses are bred by robbers and cut-throats. Dates and olives are raised in the gardens of infidels and polygamists. Our shirts are sewn by women who weep over their work tears of misery and despair. Our clothes are made up by haggard specters, who support life by hard labor in a foul atmosphere. There is hardly a single article in the market, useful or ornamental, from bank stocks to ladies’ fans, which has not been tainted by guilt, or folly, or suffering. According to the Times, therefore, every man who hates fraud and injustice, must, for his own credit, go naked and live on acorns.

We have too much confidence in the good sense of making to suppose that philanthropy will fall into disrepute because philanthropists will not rush into extremes. The world we live in is a world of compromise. We advance step by step,- often advance by retreating. No school of philosophy or morals, which finds any credit now-a-days, proposes to arrest the progress of the great machine of Industry and Commerce, and smash it to pieces because there are defects in its constructions. We propose to amend, and not to destroy. We say, by all means go on buying Cotton, spinning Cotton, raising Cotton. The more it is needed, the more it interests and absorbs great masses of the community, the more surely it will fall, sooner or later, in every stage of its growth and manufacture, under the operation of that wise and enlightened humanity, which is gradually infusing itself into commerce and legislation. To stop the growth of Cotton would be to revolutionize two hemispheres, reduce millions of Englishmen and Americans, and negroes, to beggary and starvation, and throw us two hundred years back into the past. But to endeavor to free, educate, elevate and civilize those who moisten its roots with the sweat of their brow, is inconsistent neither with wise philanthropy , nor sound political economy.

We believe that if, as the Times, suggests, all the great capitalists in the two countries sat in conclave for the next two years, and developed Cotton cultivation as fast as they could, both is Africa and India, they could do little more than supply the demand for the article which is likely to exist henceforward. The development of the trade within the last twenty years has outstripped the wildest dreams of the wildest speculators. There is no reason to suppose that this development will not grow in geometrical ratio for two centuries to come. How then will the encouragement of cotton-planting in Hindustan and Central Africa seriously affect the condition of the slaves in Southern States, turn light into darkness, infuse order into chaos?

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