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Concerning Shirts.

we mark with wonder that a contemporary goes on speculating and spinning, and spinning and speculating, until he involves himself in the following extraordinary cocoon: “If this mad scheme of Emancipation were carried into effect, the necessity for cotton would reintroduce the present system of labor in less than ten years.” This is what may be termed, in vulgar parlance, “a settler.” We must have cotton-we cannot have cotton without enslaving human beings — therefore, we must enslave human beings. Of course, morally, there is no limit to this style of logic. Given cotton as a sine qua non, and everything favor, able to its culture becomes right, and equally, every [202] thing unfavorable becomes wrong. Before the omnipotent need indicated, all must give way. There is a necessity that knows no law, human or divine.

A starving man may steal bread — a freezing man may steal a coat-and man in general, that he may not starve or freeze, may steal other men. But there is something worse involved in this proposition, viz., a regenerated and disenthralled world returning to its original sin for the sake of a shirt! It is as if our progenitors, Adam and Eve, had suddenly discerned the shame of nakedness while in a condition of original righteousness, and so desperately swallowed the apple as the only way of getting themselves an outfit. We can imagine a world without light, or a world without heat, but a world without cotton shirts is a cosmographical impossibility. We may make good resolutions, reform abuses, do unto others as the golden. rule directs, provided our shirts are not taken from us thereby; but when it comes to a matter of shirt or no shirt, all moral considerations can only be immorally regarded, and the height of virtue is to be vicious. We do not remember anything quite so extreme as this in Machiavelli, Hobbes, or The Fable of the Bees. The sequitur, of course, is, that while some men wear shirts, other men must be slaves; or perhaps it may be put thus:

I.Without Shirts there can be no Men.
II.Without Cotton there can be no Shirt.
III.Without Slaves there can be no Cotton, Ergo,
IV.Without Slaves there can be no Men.
V.Without Men there can be no World.
VI.Without a World----


But it would be painful and it is unnecessary to go further.

Thus it will be seen that the World actually revolves not upon an Axis but upon a Pod. It progresses because something is planted. A few bad cotton crops and. we are nowhere. What a cheerful prospect!

This is, of course, a change. There was a time when shirts “save their own painted skins” --as the amiable Cowper has it-“our sires had none.” There was a time when man struggled through his dark destiny in a linen shirt. There have been great men who still cut a considerable figure in history, who knew not the blessing of a cotton shirt. It is reasonable to suppose that Solomon in all his glory never enjoyed that comfort, Alexander the Great triumphed in a steel shirt, and tippled in a silk one. Julius Caesar — poor man!--went in wool. We have some reason for supposing that Gen. Washington himself always wore linen.

But the difficulty is that once having worn a cotton shirt, mankind must continue to wear one, or cease to exist, No more fig-leaves now! No more purple and fine linen! No more leathern conveniences! We may, indeed, fancy that ours will be the privilege, pitiable at the best, of going shirtless if we please, buttoning our coats to the chin, after a shabby genteel fashion. Not a bit of it. The eve of the Destroying Angel will pierce through broadcloth, and discover our deficiency in Cotton Shirts. [204]

The deduction of the Eternity of Slavery from the Necessity of Shirts is not a pleasant one, but we must take it as it comes. Once, in England, they used to put the case a little differently. There it was said that Man could not live by Bread alone, but must have Rum with Sugar in it. Then the formula ran-No Slaves, No Rum and Sugar. “D — it,” said honest John Bull, “in that case, I will fall back upon my Beer and Brandy.” This was easy to say, but when it comes to going without a Shirt, John recalcitrates.

But, then, if Slavery cannot continue, is doomed and justly doomed by God and Man to extinction, what follows? Why, that we must resign ourselves to Shirtlessness, or at least to Cotton Shirtlessness. There is nothing more to say. The thing is fixed, and very bad it is — for the washerwomen!

December 7, 1861.

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