Jan 18, 1857, Theodore Parker to Thomas Wentworth Higginson

    Source citation
    Parker, Theodore, to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, 18 January 1857. As printed in Life and Correspondence of Theodore Parker. Vol. 2, ed. John Weiss. New York: De Capo Press, 1970, p. 192-194.
    Author (from)
    Theodore Parker
    Recipient (to)
    Higginson, Thomas Wentworth
    Date Certainty
    Meghan Allen
    Transcription date
    The following text is presented here in complete form, as true to the original written document as possible.


    Railroad cars from New Haven to Boston, Jan. 18, 1857.

    MY DEAR HIGGINSON,--I have no time but car time, and no space but the railroad, so you will excuse me if my letter be writ with a pencil, and dated between nowhere and everywhere.
    I cannot attend your Convention to-morrow, as other business takes me elsewhere. Yet I am glad you have called it. For the South has so long cried “Wolf! Wolf!” and frightened every sheepish politician at the North, that it is time somebody should let those creatures have a glimpse of the real animal, and see how the South will like his looks. I once heard of a very honest, sober, and Christian sort of man, who was unequally yoked to one of the most shrewish mates that ever cursed soul or body. She was thriftless, idle, drunken, dirty, lewd, shrill-voiced, with a tongue which went night and day; and was, besides, feeble-bodied, and ugly to look upon. Moreover, she beat the children, starved them, and would not allow them even to attend school, or go to meeting, but brought up the girls in loose ways. Whenever the good man ventured to remonstrate a little, and took the part of one of his own children, the termagant, who came of no good stock herself, but had an “equivocal generation,” called him “a beggar,” “greasy mechanic,” and “Abolitionist,” and with ghastly oaths, told him he was “not fit company for a lady of her standing;” and if he found fault with her standing and character, she would leave his bed and board forever, and let his old house fall about his ears for him. She justified her conduct by quoting odd-ends of Scripture. She had “divine authority” for all she was doing. “Wasn’t there Jezebel, in the Old Testament, and the strange woman that turned the heart of Solomon, and his head too? Did not the Book of Proverbs speak of just such a woman as she was? And was there not another great creature in scarlet, spoken of in the New Testament? The Book of Revelation was on her side.” So the shrew raised her broomstick, and beat the poor hen-pecked husband till he apologized as humbly as any Republican Member of Congress in 1856 or 1857. He did not intend to interfere with her beating his sons or prostituting his girls; he thought her interpretation of the Bible was right; there were probably just such women as she in Sodom and Gomorrah; he begged she “would not leave his house.” She “might beat him—he was a non-resistant; but he hoped she would not strike too hard, for it really hurt his feelings.”
    So it went on till the house became a nuisance to the neighborhood, and the submissive husband was everywhere looked upon as a cowardly sneak. But one day he made up his mind to make a spoon or spoil a horn, and with his ox-whip in his hand, thus addressed the shrew:--“Madam, I shall treat you gently, for your wickedness is partly my fault; but I turn over a new leaf to-day. Either you become a good wife, or else you leave my house, and that forever, with the little bundle of property you brought into it. I shall take the children. Take five minutes to make up your mind. Go, or stay, just as you like.”
    To the amazement of the man, she fell down at his feet, weeping bitterly, promised all manner of things, and after he had lifted her up, actually began to put the house in order. She treated him with respect, and her children with considerable tenderness, and for many years they lived together with about as much welfare as man and wife commonly enjoy.
    I am glad to see any sign of manhood in the North, and I think a fire in the rear of some of our Republican members of Congress will do them no harm. But I do not myself desire a dissolution of the Union just now. Here is the reason. The North is seventeen millions strong; and the South contains eleven millions, whereof four millions are slaves, and four millions are “poor whites,” and the four millions slaves to their present condition, with the ghastly consequences which are sure to follow. Men talk a great deal about the compromises of the Constitution, but forget the GUARANTEES of the Constitution. The very article which contains the ambiguous “rendition clause,” has also these plain words: “The United States shall guarantee a republican form of Government of every State in the Union.” Article IV. sec. 4. (I quote from memory. You can look at the passage.) Now, I would perform that obligation before I dissolved the Union. I don’t think it would have been quite fair for strong-minded Moses to stay in Midian keeping his sheep and junketing with his neighbors. No. So the Lord said unto him, Down into Egypt with you; meet Pharaoh face to face, and bring up all Israel into the land I shall give you. If is not enough to save all your souls alive, but you brethren also, with their wives and little ones. Why, even that hen-pecked husband in the story, had too much stuff to desert his sons and daughters, and run away from their ugly dam. No, sir; the North must do well by those four millions of slaves and those four millions of “poor whites”; we must bring the mixed multitude even out of the inner house of bondage, peaceably if we can, forcibly if we must.
    But if you insist on separation, and will make dissolution the basis of agitation, why, I think much good will come of it. Let me give a hint as to the line of demarkation between the two nations. I would say—Freedom shall take and keep—1. The land east of the Chesapeake Bay. 2. All that is north of the Potomac and the Ohio; all that is west of the Mississippi—i.e. all the actual territory with the right of reversion in Mexico, Nicaragua, and the “rest of mankind”; the entire State of Missouri, Arkansas, and Texas, with the part of Louisiana west of the Mississippi.
    I think the North will not be content with less than this. Nay, I am not sure that, in case of actual separation, Virginia and Kentucky would not be us to let the amputating knife go clear down to North Carolina and Tennessee, and cut there; for I think there is too much freedom yet in the northernmost Slave States to consent to be left to perish with the general rot of the slave limbs.
    I used to think this terrible question of freedom or slavery in America would be settled without bloodshed. I believe it now no longer. The South does not seem likely to give way—the termagant has had her will so long. I am sure the North will not much longer bear or forbear. I think we shall not consent to have democracy turned out of the American house, and allow despotism to sit and occupy therein. If the North and the South ever do lock horns and push for it, there is no doubt which goes into the ditch. One weighs seventeen millions, the other eleven millions; but besides, the Southern animal is exceedingly weak in the whole hind-quarters, four millions in weight; not strong in the fore-quarters, of the same bulk; and stiff only in the neck and head, of which Bully Brooks is a fair sample; while the Northen creature is weak only in the neck and horns, which would become stiff enough in a little time.

    Yours for the right, anyhow,

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