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The old system of slavery. [from the Baltimore (Md.) sun, June 14, 1908.]

Its Compensations and contrasts with present labor conditions.

It is a graceless task, in this twentieth century, to say anything that looks like a defense, or even an apology, for slavery; but the proverb tells us to give even the devil his due, and on that ground, at least, those who most hate the memory of slavery may listen to the following suggestions. They are submitted to the readers of The Sun that the children of the slaveholders in Maryland and Virginia may be saved from being betrayed into the error of regarding with reprobation the conduct of their parents in holding slaves.

Those who rejoice most in the emancipation of the negroes must find a serious check in their exultation if they open their eyes to some of the chief changes in the condition of the negro race since its emancipation.

The negro slave was a highly valuable member of the body politic; a tiller of the soil whose services could be counted on when the crop was pitched, and a laborer who furnished to all his fellows, young and old, sick and well, a more liberal supply of the necessaries of life than was ever granted to any other laboring class in any other place or any other age. And in what the Economists call the distribution of the wealth that was produced by the negro's labor and the skill of the master who guided and restrained him, the share the master took was small indeed compared with what the Captains of Industry took in the free society of the same day. Compared with the share those captains take now, the modest share taken by the masters was what the magnates of to-day would scorn to consider. The negro lived, too, in cheerful ignorance of the ills for which he has been so much pitied. One is startled now to hear the cheerful whistle or the loud outburst of song from a negro that once was heard on every hand, night and day. Nor was his attitude one of mere resignation to his lot. That it was one of hearty good will to the masters was conclusively shown during the war between the States. A distinguished Northern writer has lately invited attention [126] to the indisputable fact that the negroes could have ended the war during any one day or night that it lasted. And the kindly attitude of the negro to the master was shown not negatively only, not by forbearance only. Not only did a vast majority of them stay at their posts, working to feed and watching to protect the families of the absent soldiers—when all the able-bodied white men were absent soldiers—but after their emancipation ten thousand examples occurred of respectful and grateful and even generous conduct to their late masters, for one instance, where a revengeful or a reproachful or even a disrespectful demonstration was made. Of the few survivors of those who stood in the relation of master and slave, a considerable number still maintain relations of strong and often tender friendship. John Stuart Mill worshipped liberty and detested slavery, but he confessed that the good will of the slaves to the masters was to him inexplicable. And all this is none the less true, if all be granted as true about the abuses of slavery that Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe painted in ‘Uncle Tom's Cabin’ and in the ‘Key to Uncle Tomn's Cabin.’ Abuses no less vile and on a far greater scale have occurred and still occur in England and America, with all their boasts of freedom, not to speak of late occurrences in South Africa and in the Philippines.

To-day the negro is a formidable danger to the State and to society, and a danger that threatens only too surely to become constantly a greater danger. Elaboration of this proposition is unnecessary.

The curious may still see a manuscript letter in which Peter Minor, of Petersburg, Virginia, frankly tells his nephew John Minor, of Fredericksburg, that the Virginia Legislature did right in rejecting a bill the nephew had proposed for the emancipation of the negroes, and says that they had as well turn loose bears and lions among the people. The Virginians of that day were as ardent lovers of all attainable liberty as the Virginians of the sixties, whose conduct in the war between the States has at last extorted high praise even from such a representative of the best product of New England as Mr. Charles Francis Adams, son of Mr. Lincoln's Minister to England. The Virginians of a still earlier day, with other Southern leaders, notably the Georgians, had striven often and in vain to get the importation of slaves stopped, but Parliament before the Revolution and Congress afterwards listened to the owners of the slave-ships of Old England and New England and continued the slave trade. Many of the fortunes that now startle us with their splendor in Newport, [127] R. I., had their origin in the slave trade, and the social magnates who have inherited these fortunes might take with perfect right as their coat of arms a handcuffed negro, the design which Queen Elizabeth gave to Captain John Hawkins for his escutcheon, when she knighted him as a reward for the benefit that he had conferred on Christendom in originating the slave trade from the coast of Africa to America. John Fiske tells us the story.

But the Virginians knew the negro. Although his industrial education on the Southern plantations had raised him far above the bloody and cannibalistic barbarism of his home in Africa, the Virginians knew that to emancipate him as the chivalrous young legislator proposed would be to ‘turn loose lions and bears among them,’ as old Peter Minor said. They foresaw one of the consequences of emancipation—the danger to which a hundred thousand husbands and fathers of the South must to-day leave their homes exposed if they leave them ungarded for an hour. Each day's newspapers make it impossible to deny this state of things. All Christendom is crying shame on the barbarous lynchings that are occurring in the States of the North as well as of the South, but even New England must concede that the provocation in the North is trifling compared with that in the South. Since President Roosevelt has twice suggested the barbarities practiced by Filipinos as palliation for the guilt of the tortures which so many of his soldiers have been convicted of using on ‘insurgent’ Filipinos, none should forget the provocation, without a parallel in history, for the lynchings in the Southern States.

A suggestion from Grover Cleveland has great weight with many good and wise men, but some curious and interesting recollections are suggested by his recommendation in a late address ‘that technical schools for negroes be dotted all over the South.’ A very elaborate exposition of the need for technical education of the people in place of the kind that has been till now given was published some years since as a report of the Department of Education at Washington with all the authentication that the Government could give it, and its recommendations have been largely adopted. In setting forth the need for this great change this report declares that the existing public school system is such a failure that something radically different must be substituted for it. The concession of failure is hardly less complete than that lately made by another authority of the very highest rank, President Eliot, of Harvard University, in addresses made to two great educational assemblies in two New England States. [128] Incidentally the report makes another concession, and it is, as said above, curious and interesting to compare it with what Mr. Cleveland now proposes as the cure for the country's grievous embarrassment about the emancipated negro.

The authoritative document referred to above, issued by the Government in Washington for the instruction of the people of the United States expressly declares that the best technical education that the world has ever seen or can ever hope to see was the education that was given by their masters to the negroes before their emancipation. There was good reason why it should be so. Every boy and every girl was set to such work as each was best fitted for and taught to do it well; for the teaching was not done by a salaried official with the inefficiency so familiar to us all, but by a person strongly prompted by interest to make the teaching successful and having power to enforce exertion in the pupil, while he or she was at the same time strongly restrained by self-interest from impairing the health of the pupil by work at too early an age, or too hard work or too dangerous work at any age. Is not this in strange contrast with the ‘free’ labor of to-day, when such strong protests are urged every day against child labor, overwork and dangerous work in the factories and the mines of the North and the South?

One of the worst of the many reproaches brought against the slaveowner by the abolitionist was the allegation that he denied his slaves education. Is it not curious to observe that the highest authorities now say that it is necessary to change the existing system of education to one radically different, and to learn that the highest authority in the United States, the Department of Education, has conceded that the technical education to which we are turning had attained its highest perfection in the system of slavery which has disappeared?

Another truth about slavery seems to have escaped the observation of all. No one will deny that the evils of drunkenness are among the greatest that society has to encounter. It is needless to recite them. It is no less incontestible that nineteen-twentieths of these evils fall on the laboring class. The drunken laborer brings the miseries of cold and hunger and death from want upon mothers, sisters, wives, widows and children. Drink hurt the health of an exceedingly small number of the negro slaves and the life of almost none. And when disabling sickness or death from that or from any other cause did come, it made no difference at all in the supply of [129] food, clothing, fire, doctors or nurses to the aged, the women or the children.

Some tender hearts who do not deserve to be called sentimental will be revolted at the claims suggested in this paper of such benevolent functions for slavery, but only by closing their eyes to the truth can they deny the claims.

Charles L. C. Minor, 1002 McCulloch street, Baltimore.

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