Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
The Patriarchal System vs. White Slavery
By James Henry Hammond (18071864)
[Born in Newberry, S. C., 1807. Died at Beech Island, Aiken Co., S. C., 1864. Slavery in the Light of Political Science.From Cotton is King, by David Christy, and Pro-Slavery Arguments. Third and Revised Edition, edited by E. N. Elliott. 1860.]
YOU next complain that our slaves are kept in bondage by the law of force. In what country or condition of mankind do you see human affairs regulated merely by the law of love? Unless I am greatly mistaken, you will, if you look over the world, find nearly all certain and permanent rights, civil, social, and I may even add religious, resting on and ultimately secured by the law of force. The power of majoritiesof aristocraciesof kingsnay of priests, for the most part, and of property, resolves itself at last into force, and could not otherwise be long maintained. Thus, in every turn of your argument against our system of slavery, you advance, whether conscious of it or not, radical and revolutionary doctrines calculated to change the whole face of the world, to overthrow all government, disorganize society, and reduce man to a state of naturered with blood, and shrouded once more in barbaric ignorance. But you greatly err, if you suppose, because we rely on force in the last resort to maintain our supremacy over our slaves, that ours is a stern and unfeeling domination, at all to be compared in hard-hearted severity to that exercised, not over the mere laborer only, but by the higher over each lower order, wherever the British sway is acknowledged. You say, that if those you address were to spend one day in the South, they would return home with impressions against slavery never to be erased. But the fact is universally the reverse. I have known numerous instances, and I never knew a single one, where there was no other cause of offence, and no object to promote by falsehood, that individuals from the non-slaveholding States did not, after residing among us long enough to understand the subject, return home to defend our slavery. It is matter of regret that you have never tried the experiment yourself. I do not doubt you would have been converted, for I give you credit for an honest though perverted mind. You would have seen how weak and futile is all abstract reasoning about this matter, and that, as a building may not be less elegant in its proportions, or tasteful in its ornaments, or virtuous in its uses, for being based upon granite, so a system of human government, though founded on force, may develop and cultivate the tenderest and purest sentiments of the human heart. And our patriarchal scheme of domestic servitude is indeed well calculated to awaken the higher and finer feelings of our nature. It is not wanting in its enthusiasm and its poetry. The relations of the most beloved and honored chief, and the most faithful and admiring subjects, which, from the time of Homer, have been the theme of song, are frigid and unfelt compared with those existing between the master and his slaveswho served his father, and rocked his cradle, or have been born in his household, and look forward to serve his childrenwho have been through life the props of his fortune, and the objects of his carewho have partaken of his griefs, and looked to him for comfort in their ownwhose sickness he has so frequently watched over and relievedwhose holidays he has so often made joyous by his bounties and his presence; for whose welfare, when absent, his anxious solicitude never ceases, and whose hearty and affectionate greetings never fail to welcome him home. In this cold, calculating, ambitious world of ours, there are few ties more heartfelt, or of more benignant influence, than those which mutually bind the master and the slave, under our ancient system, handed down from the father of Israel. The unholy purpose of the abolitionists is, to destroy by defiling it; to infuse into it the gall and bitterness which rankle in their own envenomed bosoms; to poison the minds of the master and servant; turn love to hatred, array force against force and hurl all
You think it a great crime that we do not pay our slaves wages, and on this account pronounce us robbers. In my former letter, I showed that the labor of our slaves was not without great cost to us, and that in fact they themselves receive more in return for it than your hirelings do for theirs. For what purpose do men labor, but to support themselves and their families in what comfort they are able? The efforts of mere physical labor seldom suffice to provide more than a livelihood. And it is a well known and shocking fact that while a few operatives in Great Britain succeed in securing a comfortable living, the greater part drag out a miserable existence, and sink at last under absolute want. Of what avail is it that you go through the form of paying them a pittance of what you call wages, when you do not, in return for their services, allow them what alone they askand have a just right to demandenough to feed, clothe, and lodge them, in health and sickness, with reasonable comfort? Though we do not give wages in money, we do this for our slaves, and they are therefore better rewarded than yours. It is the prevailing vice and error of the age, and one from which the abolitionists, with all their saintly pretensions, are far from being free, to bring everything to the standard of money. You make gold and silver the great test of happiness. The American slave must be wretched indeed, because he is not compensated for his services in cash. It is altogether praiseworthy to pay the laborer a shilling a day, and let him starve on it. To supply all his wants abundantly, and at all times, yet withhold from him money, is among the most reprobated crimes. The fact cannot be denied, that the mere laborer is now, and always has been, everywhere that barbarism has ceased, enslaved. Among the innovations of modern times, following the decay of villeinage, has been the creation of a new system of slavery. The primitive and patriarchal, which may also be called the sacred and natural system, in which the laborer is under the personal control of a fellow-being endowed with the sentiments and sympathies of humanity, exists among us. It has been almost everywhere else superseded by the modern artificial money-power system, in which manhis thews and sinews, his hopes and affections, his very being, are all subjected to the dominion of Capitala monster without a heartcold, stern, arithmeticalsticking to the bondtaking ever the pound of flesh,working up human life with engines, and retailing it out by weight and measure. His name of old was Mammon, the least erected spirit that fell from heaven. And it is to extend his empire that you and your deluded coadjutors dedicate your lives. You are stirring up mankind to overthrow our heaven-ordained system of servitude, surrounded by innumerable checks, designed and planted deep in the human heart by God and nature, to substitute the absolute rule of this spirit reprobate, whose proper place was hell.
You charge us with looking on our slaves as chattels or brutes, and enter into a somewhat elaborate argument to prove that they have human forms, talk, and even think. Now, the fact is, that however you may indulge in this strain for effect, it is the abolitionists, and not the slaveholders, who, practically, and in the most important point of view, regard our slaves as chattels or brutes. In your calculations of the consequences of emancipation, you pass over entirely those which must prove most serious, and which arise from the fact of their being persons.
You appear to think that we might abstain from the use of them as readily as if they were machines to be laid aside, or cattle that might be turned out to find pasturage for themselves. I have heretofore glanced at some of the results that would follow from breaking the bonds of so many human beings, now peacefully and happily linked into our social system. The tragic horrors, the decay and ruin that would for years, perhaps for ages, brood over our land, if it could be accomplished, I will not attempt to portray. But do you fancy the blight would, in such an event, come to us alone? The diminution of the sugar crop of the West Indies affected Great Britain only, and there chiefly the poor. It was a matter of no moment to capital, that labor should have one comfort less. Yet it has forced a reduction of the British duty on sugar. Who can estimate the consequences that must follow the annihilation of the cotton crop of the slaveholding States? I do not undervalue the importance of other articles of commerce, but no calamity could befall the world at all comparable to the sudden loss of two millions of bales of cotton annually. From the deserts of Africa to the Siberian wildsfrom Greenland to the Chinese wallthere is not a spot of earth but would feel the sensation. The factories of Europe would fall with a concussion that would shake down castles, palaces, and even thrones; while the purse-proud, elbowing insolence of our Northern monopolist would soon disappear forever under the smooth speech of the pedler, scourging our frontiers for a livelihood, or the bluff vulgarity of the South Sea whaler, following the harpoon amid storms and shoals. Doubtless the abolitionists think we could grow cotton without slaves, or that at worst the reduction of the crop would be moderate and temporary. Such gross delusions show how profoundly ignorant they are of our condition here.