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Reply of Mrs. Child.

Wayland [Mass.], December 17, 1859.
Prolonged absence from home has prevented my answering your letter so soon as I intended. I have no disposition to retort upon you the “twofold damnation” to which you consign me. On the contrary, I sincerely wish you well, both in this world and the next. If the anathema proved a safety valve to your own boiling spirit, it did some good to you, while it fell harmless upon me. Fortunately for all of us, the Heavenly Father rules his universe by laws, which the passions or the prejudices of mortals have no power to change.

As for John Brown, his reputation may be safely trusted to the impartial pen of history; and his motives will be righteously judged by him who knoweth the secrets of all hearts. Men, however great they may be, are of small consequence in comparison with principles; and the principle for which John Brown died is the question at issue between us.

You refer me to the Bible, from which you quote the favorite text of slave-holders:--

Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. 1 Peter II. 18.

Abolitionists also have favorite texts, to some of which I would call your attention:--

Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them. Heb. XIII. 3.

Hide the outcasts; bewray not him that wandereth. Let mine outcasts dwell with thee. Be thou a covert to them from the face of the spoiler. Isa. XVI. 3, 4.

Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which [124] is escaped from his master unto thee: he shall dwell with thee . .. where it liketh him best: thou shalt not oppress him. Deut. XXIII. 15, 16.

Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction. Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy. Prov. XXXI. 8, 9.

Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins. Isa. LVIII. 1.

I would especially commend to slave-holders the followinW portions of that volume wherein you say God has revealed the duty of masters:--

Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven. Col. IV. 1.

Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. Matt. XXIII. 10.

Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them. Matt. VII. 12.

Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Isa. LVIII. 6.


have given a boy for an harlot, and sold a girl for wine, that they might drink. Joel III. 3.

He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker. Prov. XIV. 31.

Rob not the poor, because he is poor: neither oppress the afflicted. For the Lord will plead their cause, and spoil the soul of those who spoiled them. Prov. XXII. 22, 23.

Woe unto him... that useth his neighbor's service without wages, and giveth him not for his work. Jer. XII. 13.

Let him that stole, steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands. Eph. IV. 28.

Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness which they have prescribed; to turn aside the needy from judgment, and to take away the right from the poor of my people, that widows may be their prey, and that they may rob the fatherless! Isa. x. 1, 2.

If I did despise the cause of my man-servant or of my maid-servant, when they contend with me; what then shall I do when God riseth up? and when he visiteth, what shall I answer him? Job XXXI. 13, 14.

Thou hast sent widows away empty, and the arms of the fatherless have been broken. Therefore snares are round about thee, and sudden fear troubleth thee; or darkness, that thou canst not see. Job XXII. 9-11.

Behold, the hire of the laborers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth; and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. Ye have condemned and killed the just. James v. 4.

If the appropriateness of these texts is not apparent, I will try to make it so, by evidence drawn entirely from Southern sources. The abolitionists are not such an ignorant set of fanatics as you suppose. They know whereof they affirm. They are familiar with the laws of the slave States, which are alone sufficient to inspire abhorrence in any humane heart or reflecting mind not perverted by the prejudices of education and custom. I might fill many letters with significant extracts from your statute books; but I have space only to glance at a few, which indicate the leading features of the system you cherish so tenaciously.

The universal rule of the slave State is, that “the child follows the condition of its mother.” This is [126] an index to many things. Marriages between white and colored people are forbidden by law; yet a very large number of the slaves are brown or yellow. When Lafayette visited this country in his old age, he said he was very much struck by the great change in the colored population of Virginia; that in the time of the Revolution nearly all the household slaves were black, but when he returned to America, he found very few of them black. The advertisements in Southern newspapers often describe runaway slaves that “pass themselves for white men.” Sometimes they are described as having “straight, light hair, blue eyes, and clear complexion.” This could not be, unless their fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers had been white men. But as their mothers were slaves, the law pronounces them slaves, subject to be sold on the auction-block whenever the necessities or convenience of their masters or mistresses require it. The sale of one's own children, brothers, or sisters, has an ugly aspect to those who are unaccustomed to it; and, obviously, it cannot have a good moral influence, that law and custom should render licentiousness a profitable vice.

Throughout the slave States, the testimony of no colored person, bond or free, can be received against t white man. You have some laws, which, on the face of them, would seem to restrain inhuman men from murdering or mutilating slaves; but they are rendered nearly null by the law I have cited. Any drunken master, overseer, or patrol may go into the negro cabins, and commit what outrages he pleases, with perfect impunity, if no white person is present who chooses to witness against him. North Carolina and Georgia leave a large loop-hole for escape, even if [127] white persons are present, when murder is committed. A law to punish persons for “maliciously killing a slave” has this remarkable qualification: “Always provided that this act shall not extend to any slave dying of moderate correction.” We at the North find it difficult to understand how moderate punishment can cause death. I have read several of your law books attentively, and I find no cases of punishment for the murder of a slave, except by fines paid to the owner, to indemnify him for the loss of his property: the same as if his horse or cow had been killed. In the South Carolina Reports is a case where the State had indicted Guy Raines for the murder of a slave named Isaac. It was proved that William Gray, the owner of Isaac, had given him a thousand lashes. The poor creature made his escape, but was caught, and delivered to the custody of Raines, to be carried to the county jail. Because he refused to go, Raines gave him five hundred lashes, and he died soon after. The counsel for Raines proposed that he should be allowed to acquit himself by his own oath. The court decided against it, because white witnesses had testified; but the Court of Appeals afterward decided he ought to have been exculpated by his own oath, and he was acquitted. Small indeed is the chance for justice to a slave, when his own color are not allowed to testify, if they see him maimed or his children murdered; when he has slave-holders for judges and jurors; when the murderer can exculpate himself by his own oath; and when the law provides that it is no murder to kill a slave by “moderate correction!”

Your laws uniformly declare that “a slave shall be deemed a chattel personal in the hands of his owner, to all intents, constructions, and purposes [128] whatsoever.” This, of course, involves the right to sell his children, as if they were pigs; also, to take his wife from him “for any intent or purpose whatsoever.” Your laws also make it death for him to resist a white man, however brutally he may be treated, or however much his family may be outraged before his eyes. If he attempts to run away, your laws allow any man to shoot him.

By your laws, all a slave's earnings belong to his master. He can neither receive donations nor transmit property. If his master allows him some hours to work for himself, and by great energy and perseverance he earns enough to buy his own bones and sinews, his master may make him pay two or three times over, and he has no redress. Three such cases have come within my own knowledge. Even a written promise from his master has no legal value, because a slave can make no contracts.

Your laws also systematically aim at keeping the minds of the colored people in the most abject state of ignorance. If white people attempt to teach them to read or write, they are punished by imprisonment or fines; if they attempt to teach each other, they are punished with from twenty to thirty-nine lashes each. It cannot be said that the anti-slavery agitation produced such laws, for they date much farther back; many of them when we were Provinces. They are the necessities of the system, which, being itself an outrage upon human nature, can be sustained only by perpetual outrages.

The next reliable source of information is the advertisements in the Southern papers. In the North Carolina (Raleigh) Standard, Mr. Micajah Ricks advertises, “Runaway, a negro woman and two children. [129] A few days before she went off, I burned her with a hot iron on the left side of her face. I tried to make the letter M.” In the Natchez Courier, Mr. J. P. Ashford advertises a runaway negro girl, with “a good many teeth missing, and the letter A branded on her cheek and forehead.” In the Lexington (Ky.) “Observer,” Mr. William Overstreet advertises a runaway negro with “his left eye out, scars from a dirk on his left arm, and much scarred with the whip.” I might quote from hundreds of such advertisements, offering rewards for runaways, “dead or alive,” and describing them with “ears cut off,” “jaws broken,” “scarred by rifle-balls,” etc.

Another source of information is afforded by your “fugitives from injustice,” with many of whom I have conversed freely. I have seen scars of the whip and marks of the branding-iron, and I have listened to their heart-breaking sobs, while they told of “piccaninnies” torn from their arms and sold.

Another source of information is furnished by emancipated slave-holders. Sarah M. Grimke, daughter of the late Judge Grimke, of the Supreme Court of South Carolina, testifies as follows: “As I left my native State on account of slavery, and deserted the home of my fathers to escape the sound of the lash and the shrieks of tortured victims, I would gladly bury in oblivion the recollection of those scenes with --which I have been familiar. But this cannot be. They come over my memory like gory spectres, and implore me, with resistless power, in the name of a God of mercy, in the name of a crucified Saviour, in the name of humanity, for the sake of the slaveholder, as well as the slave, to bear witness to the horrors of the Southern prison-house.” She proceeds [130] to describe dreadful tragedies, the actors in which she says were “men and women of the first families in South Carolina ;” and that their cruelties did not, in the slightest degree, affect their standing in society. Her sister, Angelina Grimke, declared: “While I live, and slavery lives, I must testify against it. Not merely for the sake of my poor brothers and sisters in bonds; for even were slavery no curse to its victims, the exercise of arbitrary power works such fearful ruin upon the hearts of slave-holders, that I should feel impelled to labor and pray for its overthrow with my latest breath.” Among the horrible barbarities she enumerates is the case of a girl thirteen years old, who was flogged to death by her master. She says: “I asked a prominent lawyer, who belonged to one of the first families in the State, whether the murderer of this helpless child could not be indicted, and he coolly replied that the slave was Mr.--'s property, and if he chose to suffer the loss, no one else had anything to do with it.” She proceeds to say: “I felt there could be for me no rest in the midst of such outrages and pollutions. Yet I saw nothing of slavery in its most vulgar and repulsive forms. I saw it in the city, among the fashionable and the honorable, where it was garnished by refinement and decked out for show. It is my deep, solemn, deliberate conviction, that this is a cause worth dying for. I say so from what I have seen, and heard, and known, in a land of slavery, whereon rest the darkness of Egypt and the sin of Sodom.” I once asked Miss Angelina if she thought abolitionists exaggerated the horrors of slavery. She replied, with earnest emphasis: “They cannot be exaggerated. It is impossible for imagination to go [131] beyond the facts.” To a lady who observed that the time had not yet come for agitating the subject, she answered: “I apprehend if thou wert a slave, toiling in the fields of Carolina, thou wouldst think the time had fully come.”

Mr. Thome of Kentucky, in the course of his eloquent lectures on this subject, said: “I breathed my first breath in an atmosphere of slavery. But though I am heir to a slave inheritance, I am bold to denounce the whole system as an outrage, a complication of crimes, and wrongs, and cruelties, that make angels weep.”

Mr. Allen of Alabama, in a discussion with the students at Lane Seminary, in 1834, told of a slave who was tied up and beaten all day, with a paddle full of holes. “At night, his flesh was literally pounded to a jelly. The punishment was inflicted within hearing of the academy and the public green. But no one took any notice of it. No one thought any wrong was done. At our house, it is so common to hear screams from a neighboring plantation that we think nothing of it. Lest any one should think that the slaves are generally well treated, and that the cases I mentioned are exceptions, let me be distinctly understood that cruelty is the rule, and kindness is the exception.”

In the same discussion, a student from Virginia, after relating cases of great cruelty, said: “Such things are common all over Virginia; at least, so far as I am acquainted. But the planters generally avoid punishing their slaves before strangers.”

Miss Mattie Griffith of Kentucky, whose entire property consisted in slaves, emancipated them all. The noble-hearted girl wrote to me: “I shall go [132] forth into the world penniless; but I shall work with a light heart, and, best of all, I shall live with an easy conscience.” Previous to this generous resolution, she had never read any abolition document, and entertained the common Southern prejudice against them. But her own observation so deeply impressed her with the enormities of slavery, that she was impelled to publish a book, called “The Autobiography of a female slave.” I read it with thrilling interest; but some of the scenes made my nerves quiver so painfully that I told her I hoped they were too highly colored. She shook her head sadly, and replied: “I am sorry to say that every incident in the book has come within my own knowledge.”

St. George Tucker, Judge and Professor of Law in Virginia, speaking of the legalized murder of runaways, said: “Such are the cruelties to which a state of slavery gives birth — such the horrors to which the human mind is capable of being reconciled by its adoption.” Alluding to our struggle in ‘76, he said: “While we proclaimed our resolution to live free or die, we imposed on our fellow-men of different complexion a slavery ten thousand times worse than the utmost extremity of the oppressions of which we complained.”

Governor Giles, in a message to the Legislature of Virginia, referring to the custom of selling free colored people into slavery, as a punishment for offences not capital, said: “Slavery must be admitted to be a punishment of the highest order; and, according to the just rule for the apportionment of punishment to crimes, it ought to be applied only to crimes of the highest order. The most distressing reflection in the application of this punishment to female offenders is, [133] that it extends to their offspring; and the innocent are thus punished with the guilty.” Yet one hundred and twenty thousand innocent babes in this country are annually subjected to a punishment which your governor declared “ought to be applied only to crimes of the highest order.”

Jefferson said: “One day of American slavery is worse than a thousand years of that which we rose in arms to oppose.” Alluding to insurrections, he said: “The Almighty has no attribute that can take side with us in such a contest.”

John Randolph declared: “Every planter is a sentinel at his own door. Every Southern mother, when she hears an alarm of fire in the night, instinctively presses her infant closer to her bosom.”

Looking at the system of slavery in the light of all this evidence, do you candidly think we deserve “twofold damnation” for detesting it? Can you not believe that we may hate the system, and yet be truly your friends? I make allowance for the excited state of your mind, and for the prejudices induced by education. I do not care to change your opinion of me; but I do wish you could be persuaded to examine this subject dispassionately, for the sake of the prosperity of Virginia, and the welfare of unborn generations, both white and colored. For thirty years, abolitionists have been trying to reason with slave-holders, through the press, and in the halls of Congress. Their efforts, though directed to the masters only, have been met with violence and abuse almost equal to that poured on the head of John Brown. Yet surely we, as a portion of the Union, involved in the expense, the degeneracy, the danger, and the disgrace of this iniquitous and fatal system, have a right [134] to speak about it, and a right to be heard also. At the North, we willingly publish pro-slavery arguments, and ask only a fail field and no favor for the other side. But you will not even allow your own citizens a chance to examine this important subject. Your letter to me is published in Northern papers, as well as Southern; but my reply will not be allowed to appear in any Southern paper. The despotic measures you take to silence investigation, and shut out the light from your own white population, prove how little reliance you have on the strength of your cause. In this enlightened age, all despotisms ought to come to an end by the agency of moral and rational means. But if they resist such agencies, it is in the order of Providence that they must come to an end by violence. History is full of such lessons.

Would that the veil of prejudice could be removed from your eyes. If you would candidly examine the statements of Governor Hincks of the British West Indies, and of the Rev. Mr. Bleby, long time a missionary in those islands, both before and after emancipation, you could not fail to be convinced that Cash is a more powerful incentive to labor than the Lash, and far safer also. One fact in relation to those islands is very significant. While the working people were slaves, it was always necessary to order out the military during the Christmas holidays; but, since emancipation, not a soldier is to be seen. A hundred John Browns might land there without exciting the slightest alarm.

To the personal questions you ask me, I will reply in the name of all the women of New England. It would be extremely difficult to find any woman in our villages who does not sew for the poor, and watch [135] with the sick, whenever occasion requires. We pay our domestics generous wages, with which they can purchase as many Christmas gowns as they please; a process far better for their characters, as well as our own, than to receive their clothing as a charity, after being deprived of just payment for their labor. I have never known an instance where the “pangs of maternity” did not meet with requisite assistance; and here at the North, after we have helped the mothers, we do not sell the babies.

I readily believe what you state concerning the kindness of many Virginia matrons. It is creditable to their hearts: but after all, the best that can be done in that way is a poor equivalent for the perpetual wrong done to the slaves, and the terrible liabilities to which they are always subject. Kind masters and mistresses among you are merely lucky accidents. If any one chooses to be a brutal despot, your laws and customs give him complete power to do so. And the lot of those slaves who have the kindest masters is exceedingly precarious. In case of death, or pecuniary difficulties, or marriages in the family, they may at any time be suddenly transferred from protection and indulgence to personal degradation, or extreme severity; and if they should try to escape from such sufferings, anybody is authorized to shoot them down like dogs.

With regard to your declaration that “no Southerner ought henceforth to read a line of my composition,” I reply that I have great satisfaction in the consciousness of having nothing to lose in that quarter. Twenty-seven years ago I published a book called “An Appeal in Behalf of that Class of Americans called Africans.” It influenced the minds of several [136] young men afterward conspicuous in public life, through whose agency the cause was better served than it could have been by me. From that time to this, I have labored too earnestly for the slave to be agreeable to slave-holders. Literary popularity was never a paramount object with me, even in my youth ; and, now that I am old, I am utterly indifferent to it. But, if I cared for the exclusion you threaten, I should at least have the consolation of being exiled with honorable company. Dr. Channing's writings, mild and candid as they are, breathe what you would call arrant treason. William C. Bryant, in his capacity of editor, is openly on our side. The inspired muse of Whittier has incessantly sounded the trumpet for moral warfare with your iniquitous institution ; and his stirring tones have been answered, more or less loudly, by Pierpont, Lowell, and Longfellow. Emerson, the Plato of America, leaves the scholastic seclusion he loves so well, and, disliking noise with all his poetic soul, bravely takes his stand among the trumpeters. George W. Curtis, the brilliant writer, the eloquent lecturer, the elegant man of the world, lays the wealth of his talent on the altar of Freedom, and makes common cause with rough-shod reformers.

The genius of Mrs. Stowe carried the outworks of your institution at one dash, and left the citadel open to besiegers, who are pouring in amain. In the church, on the ultra-liberal side, it is assailed by the powerful battering-ram of Theodore Parker's eloquence. On the extreme orthodox side is set a huge fire, kindled by the burning words of Dr. Cheever. Between them is Henry Ward Beecher, sending a shower of keen arrows into your intrenchments; and [137] with him ride a troop of sharp-shooters from all sects. If you turn to the literature of England or France, you will find your institution treated with as little favor. The fact is, the whole civilized world proclaims slavery an outlaw, and the best intellect of the age is active in hunting it down.

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