A Northerner’s View of Slavery in 1911
The son of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Dr. Charles E. Stowe spoke at Fisk University in Nashville in 1911. Though he stated that the Northern and Southern States were equally responsible for African slavery here, he must have been aware that slavery was a British colonial labor system, a system both sections inherited after secession and independence from England. He would also be aware that previous to Massachusetts tinkerer Whitney’s invention, cotton was a laborious and unprofitable crop on a large scale, and that New England mills profited greatly from this invention, slave-produced cotton and a slave trade their brethren would not cease.
Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
A Northerner’s View of Slavery in 1911:“This much must be conceded, that the Northern States were just as responsible for the existence of slavery as were the Southern States…and it grew stronger in the Southern States after the invention of Eli Whitney’s cotton gin, simply because it was enormously profitable, and property and slaves correspondingly valuable.
Sometimes the question is asked, “Were not the slaves better off under slavery than they are now under freedom?” I think a candid answer to that question demands us to say than some were better off under slavery than they are under freedom. The abolition of slavery acted on the colored race like a wedge, forcing some down and some up. Those who were fit for freedom, prepared to embrace and make the most of the opportunities offered them as free man, rose. But some were not fit for freedom. Now that is no reflection upon the colored race. We have a very large proportion of the white race that are not fit for freedom. We have innumerable numbers of men and women that we are compelled to confine in institutions and keep as wards of the State, or they destroy themselves and everybody else.
If slavery was an utterly evil institution, with no alleviating features, how are we to account for the fact that when the Confederate soldiers were at the front fighting, as they thought, for their independence, the Negroes on the plantations took care of the women and children and old people, and nothing like an act of violence was ever known among them?
I have seen at Charleston, S.C., a monument erected by former slaveholders and their descendants in grateful acknowledgment of the fidelity of those slaves who remained upon the plantations and cared for their women and children while they were at the front, and I understand that the Confederate veterans are also to erect another such monument. Certainly such kindly feeling between master and slave shows that there must have been something good in the institution of slavery. So we should not look back at the institution of slavery as a reign of unalleviated wickedness and horror, but remember that it had within itself, in spite of its many abuses and intolerable horrors, much that was good.
A letter from President Taft was also read by Dr. Stowe:
The White House, Washington, D.C.
“I am not one of those who believe that it is well to educate that mass of Negroes with academic or university education. On the contrary, I am firmly convinced that the hope of the Negro is in his industrial education throughout the South and in teaching him to be a better farmer, a better carpenter, a better machinist, and a better blacksmith than he is now, and to make more blacksmiths and more good farmers than there now are among the Negroes.”
(Honest Confession Good for the Country, Son of Harriet Beecher Stowe Makes Address at Fisk University, Nashville. Confederate Veteran, July, 1911, pp. 326-327)