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American Notes, a novel by Charles Dickens


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THE upholders of slavery in America - of the atrocities of which
system, I shall not write one word for which I have not had ample
proof and warrant - may be divided into three great classes.

The first, are those more moderate and rational owners of human
cattle, who have come into the possession of them as so many coins
in their trading capital, but who admit the frightful nature of the
Institution in the abstract, and perceive the dangers to society
with which it is fraught: dangers which however distant they may
be, or howsoever tardy in their coming on, are as certain to fall
upon its guilty head, as is the Day of Judgment.

The second, consists of all those owners, breeders, users, buyers
and sellers of slaves, who will, until the bloody chapter has a
bloody end, own, breed, use, buy, and sell them at all hazards:
who doggedly deny the horrors of the system in the teeth of such a
mass of evidence as never was brought to bear on any other subject,
and to which the experience of every day contributes its immense
amount; who would at this or any other moment, gladly involve
America in a war, civil or foreign, provided that it had for its
sole end and object the assertion of their right to perpetuate
slavery, and to whip and work and torture slaves, unquestioned by
any human authority, and unassailed by any human power; who, when
they speak of Freedom, mean the Freedom to oppress their kind, and
to be savage, merciless, and cruel; and of whom every man on his
own ground, in republican America, is a more exacting, and a
sterner, and a less responsible despot than the Caliph Haroun
Alraschid in his angry robe of scarlet.

The third, and not the least numerous or influential, is composed
of all that delicate gentility which cannot bear a superior, and
cannot brook an equal; of that class whose Republicanism means, 'I
will not tolerate a man above me: and of those below, none must
approach too near;' whose pride, in a land where voluntary
servitude is shunned as a disgrace, must be ministered to by
slaves; and whose inalienable rights can only have their growth in
negro wrongs.

It has been sometimes urged that, in the unavailing efforts which
have been made to advance the cause of Human Freedom in the
republic of America (strange cause for history to treat of!),
sufficient regard has not been had to the existence of the first
class of persons; and it has been contended that they are hardly
used, in being confounded with the second. This is, no doubt, the
case; noble instances of pecuniary and personal sacrifice have
already had their growth among them; and it is much to be regretted
that the gulf between them and the advocates of emancipation should
have been widened and deepened by any means: the rather, as there
are, beyond dispute, among these slave-owners, many kind masters
who are tender in the exercise of their unnatural power. Still, it
is to be feared that this injustice is inseparable from the state
of things with which humanity and truth are called upon to deal.
Slavery is not a whit the more endurable because some hearts are to
be found which can partially resist its hardening influences; nor
can the indignant tide of honest wrath stand still, because in its
onward course it overwhelms a few who are comparatively innocent,
among a host of guilty.

The ground most commonly taken by these better men among the
advocates of slavery, is this: 'It is a bad system; and for myself
I would willingly get rid of it, if I could; most willingly. But
it is not so bad, as you in England take it to be. You are
deceived by the representations of the emancipationists. The
greater part of my slaves are much attached to me. You will say
that I do not allow them to be severely treated; but I will put it
to you whether you believe that it can be a general practice to
treat them inhumanly, when it would impair their value, and would
be obviously against the interests of their masters.'

Is it the interest of any man to steal, to game, to waste his
health and mental faculties by drunkenness, to lie, forswear
himself, indulge hatred, seek desperate revenge, or do murder? No.
All these are roads to ruin. And why, then, do men tread them?
Because such inclinations are among the vicious qualities of
mankind. Blot out, ye friends of slavery, from the catalogue of
human passions, brutal lust, cruelty, and the abuse of
irresponsible power (of all earthly temptations the most difficult
to be resisted), and when ye have done so, and not before, we will
inquire whether it be the interest of a master to lash and maim the
slaves, over whose lives and limbs he has an absolute control!

But again: this class, together with that last one I have named,
the miserable aristocracy spawned of a false republic, lift up
their voices and exclaim 'Public opinion is all-sufficient to
prevent such cruelty as you denounce.' Public opinion! Why,
public opinion in the slave States IS slavery, is it not? Public
opinion, in the slave States, has delivered the slaves over, to the
gentle mercies of their masters. Public opinion has made the laws,
and denied the slaves legislative protection. Public opinion has
knotted the lash, heated the branding-iron, loaded the rifle, and
shielded the murderer. Public opinion threatens the abolitionist
with death, if he venture to the South; and drags him with a rope
about his middle, in broad unblushing noon, through the first city
in the East. Public opinion has, within a few years, burned a
slave alive at a slow fire in the city of St. Louis; and public
opinion has to this day maintained upon the bench that estimable
judge who charged the jury, impanelled there to try his murderers,
that their most horrid deed was an act of public opinion, and being
so, must not be punished by the laws the public sentiment had made.
Public opinion hailed this doctrine with a howl of wild applause,
and set the prisoners free, to walk the city, men of mark, and
influence, and station, as they had been before.

Public opinion! what class of men have an immense preponderance
over the rest of the community, in their power of representing
public opinion in the legislature? the slave-owners. They send
from their twelve States one hundred members, while the fourteen
free States, with a free population nearly double, return but a
hundred and forty-two. Before whom do the presidential candidates
bow down the most humbly, on whom do they fawn the most fondly, and
for whose tastes do they cater the most assiduously in their
servile protestations? The slave-owners always.

Public opinion! hear the public opinion of the free South, as
expressed by its own members in the House of Representatives at
Washington. 'I have a great respect for the chair,' quoth North
Carolina, 'I have a great respect for the chair as an officer of
the house, and a great respect for him personally; nothing but that
respect prevents me from rushing to the table and tearing that
petition which has just been presented for the abolition of slavery
in the district of Columbia, to pieces.' - 'I warn the
abolitionists,' says South Carolina, 'ignorant, infuriated
barbarians as they are, that if chance shall throw any of them into
our hands, he may expect a felon's death.' - 'Let an abolitionist
come within the borders of South Carolina,' cries a third; mild
Carolina's colleague; 'and if we can catch him, we will try him,
and notwithstanding the interference of all the governments on
earth, including the Federal government, we will HANG him.'

Public opinion has made this law. - It has declared that in
Washington, in that city which takes its name from the father of
American liberty, any justice of the peace may bind with fetters
any negro passing down the street and thrust him into jail: no
offence on the black man's part is necessary. The justice says, 'I
choose to think this man a runaway:' and locks him up. Public
opinion impowers the man of law when this is done, to advertise the
negro in the newspapers, warning his owner to come and claim him,
or he will be sold to pay the jail fees. But supposing he is a
free black, and has no owner, it may naturally be presumed that he
is set at liberty. No: HE IS SOLD TO RECOMPENSE HIS JAILER. This
has been done again, and again, and again. He has no means of
proving his freedom; has no adviser, messenger, or assistance of
any sort or kind; no investigation into his case is made, or
inquiry instituted. He, a free man, who may have served for years,
and bought his liberty, is thrown into jail on no process, for no
crime, and on no pretence of crime: and is sold to pay the jail
fees. This seems incredible, even of America, but it is the law.

Public opinion is deferred to, in such cases as the following:
which is headed in the newspapers:-


'An interesting case is now on trial in the Supreme Court, arising
out of the following facts. A gentleman residing in Maryland had
allowed an aged pair of his slaves, substantial though not legal
freedom for several years. While thus living, a daughter was born
to them, who grew up in the same liberty, until she married a free
negro, and went with him to reside in Pennsylvania. They had
several children, and lived unmolested until the original owner
died, when his heir attempted to regain them; but the magistrate
before whom they were brought, decided that he had no jurisdiction

'Cash for negroes,' 'cash for negroes,' 'cash for negroes,' is the
heading of advertisements in great capitals down the long columns
of the crowded journals. Woodcuts of a runaway negro with manacled
hands, crouching beneath a bluff pursuer in top boots, who, having
caught him, grasps him by the throat, agreeably diversify the
pleasant text. The leading article protests against 'that
abominable and hellish doctrine of abolition, which is repugnant
alike to every law of God and nature.' The delicate mamma, who
smiles her acquiescence in this sprightly writing as she reads the
paper in her cool piazza, quiets her youngest child who clings
about her skirts, by promising the boy 'a whip to beat the little
niggers with.' - But the negroes, little and big, are protected by
public opinion.

Let us try this public opinion by another test, which is important
in three points of view: first, as showing how desperately timid
of the public opinion slave-owners are, in their delicate
descriptions of fugitive slaves in widely circulated newspapers;
secondly, as showing how perfectly contented the slaves are, and
how very seldom they run away; thirdly, as exhibiting their entire
freedom from scar, or blemish, or any mark of cruel infliction, as
their pictures are drawn, not by lying abolitionists, but by their
own truthful masters.

The following are a few specimens of the advertisements in the
public papers. It is only four years since the oldest among them
appeared; and others of the same nature continue to be published
every day, in shoals.

'Ran away, Negress Caroline. Had on a collar with one prong turned

'Ran away, a black woman, Betsy. Had an iron bar on her right

'Ran away, the negro Manuel. Much marked with irons.'

'Ran away, the negress Fanny. Had on an iron band about her neck.'

'Ran away, a negro boy about twelve years old. Had round his neck
a chain dog-collar with "De Lampert" engraved on it.'

'Ran away, the negro Hown. Has a ring of iron on his left foot.
Also, Grise, HIS WIFE, having a ring and chain on the left leg.'

'Ran away, a negro boy named James. Said boy was ironed when he
left me.'

'Committed to jail, a man who calls his name John. He has a clog
of iron on his right foot which will weigh four or five pounds.'

'Detained at the police jail, the negro wench, Myra. Has several
marks of LASHING, and has irons on her feet.'

'Ran away, a negro woman and two children. A few days before she
went off, I burnt her with a hot iron, on the left side of her
face. I tried to make the letter M.'

'Ran away, a negro man named Henry; his left eye out, some scars
from a dirk on and under his left arm, and much scarred with the

'One hundred dollars reward, for a negro fellow, Pompey, 40 years
old. He is branded on the left jaw.'

'Committed to jail, a negro man. Has no toes on the left foot.'

'Ran away, a negro woman named Rachel. Has lost all her toes
except the large one.'

'Ran away, Sam. He was shot a short time since through the hand,
and has several shots in his left arm and side.'

'Ran away, my negro man Dennis. Said negro has been shot in the
left arm between the shoulder and elbow, which has paralysed the
left hand.'

'Ran away, my negro man named Simon. He has been shot badly, in
his back and right arm.'

'Ran away, a negro named Arthur. Has a considerable scar across
his breast and each arm, made by a knife; loves to talk much of the
goodness of God.'

'Twenty-five dollars reward for my man Isaac. He has a scar on his
forehead, caused by a blow; and one on his back, made by a shot
from a pistol.'

'Ran away, a negro girl called Mary. Has a small scar over her
eye, a good many teeth missing, the letter A is branded on her
cheek and forehead.'

'Ran away, negro Ben. Has a scar on his right hand; his thumb and
forefinger being injured by being shot last fall. A part of the
bone came out. He has also one or two large scars on his back and

'Detained at the jail, a mulatto, named Tom. Has a scar on the
right cheek, and appears to have been burned with powder on the

'Ran away, a negro man named Ned. Three of his fingers are drawn
into the palm of his hand by a cut. Has a scar on the back of his
neck, nearly half round, done by a knife.'

'Was committed to jail, a negro man. Says his name is Josiah. His
back very much scarred by the whip; and branded on the thigh and
hips in three or four places, thus (J M). The rim of his right ear
has been bit or cut off.'

'Fifty dollars reward, for my fellow Edward. He has a scar on the
corner of his mouth, two cuts on and under his arm, and the letter
E on his arm.'

'Ran away, negro boy Ellie. Has a scar on one of his arms from the
bite of a dog.'

'Ran away, from the plantation of James Surgette, the following
negroes: Randal, has one ear cropped; Bob, has lost one eye;
Kentucky Tom, has one jaw broken.'

'Ran away, Anthony. One of his ears cut off, and his left hand cut
with an axe.'

'Fifty dollars reward for the negro Jim Blake. Has a piece cut out
of each ear, and the middle finger of the left hand cut off to the
second joint.'

'Ran away, a negro woman named Maria. Has a scar on one side of
her cheek, by a cut. Some scars on her back.'

'Ran away, the Mulatto wench Mary. Has a cut on the left arm, a
scar on the left shoulder, and two upper teeth missing.'

I should say, perhaps, in explanation of this latter piece of
description, that among the other blessings which public opinion
secures to the negroes, is the common practice of violently
punching out their teeth. To make them wear iron collars by day
and night, and to worry them with dogs, are practices almost too
ordinary to deserve mention.

'Ran away, my man Fountain. Has holes in his ears, a scar on the
right side of his forehead, has been shot in the hind part of his
legs, and is marked on the back with the whip.'

'Two hundred and fifty dollars reward for my negro man Jim. He is
much marked with shot in his right thigh. The shot entered on the
outside, halfway between the hip and knee joints.'

'Brought to jail, John. Left ear cropt.'

'Taken up, a negro man. Is very much scarred about the face and
body, and has the left ear bit off.'

'Ran away, a black girl, named Mary. Has a scar on her cheek, and
the end of one of her toes cut off.'

'Ran away, my Mulatto woman, Judy. She has had her right arm

'Ran away, my negro man, Levi. His left hand has been burnt, and I
think the end of his forefinger is off.'

'Ran away, a negro man, NAMED WASHINGTON. Has lost a part of his
middle finger, and the end of his little finger.'

'Twenty-five dollars reward for my man John. The tip of his nose
is bit off.'

'Twenty-five dollars reward for the negro slave, Sally. Walks AS
THOUGH crippled in the back.'

'Ran away, Joe Dennis. Has a small notch in one of his ears.'

'Ran away, negro boy, Jack. Has a small crop out of his left ear.'

'Ran away, a negro man, named Ivory. Has a small piece cut out of
the top of each ear.'

While upon the subject of ears, I may observe that a distinguished
abolitionist in New York once received a negro's ear, which had
been cut off close to the head, in a general post letter. It was
forwarded by the free and independent gentleman who had caused it
to be amputated, with a polite request that he would place the
specimen in his 'collection.'

I could enlarge this catalogue with broken arms, and broken legs,
and gashed flesh, and missing teeth, and lacerated backs, and bites
of dogs, and brands of red-hot irons innumerable: but as my
readers will be sufficiently sickened and repelled already, I will
turn to another branch of the subject.

These advertisements, of which a similar collection might be made
for every year, and month, and week, and day; and which are coolly
read in families as things of course, and as a part of the current
news and small-talk; will serve to show how very much the slaves
profit by public opinion, and how tender it is in their behalf.
But it may be worth while to inquire how the slave-owners, and the
class of society to which great numbers of them belong, defer to
public opinion in their conduct, not to their slaves but to each
other; how they are accustomed to restrain their passions; what
their bearing is among themselves; whether they are fierce or
gentle; whether their social customs be brutal, sanguinary, and
violent, or bear the impress of civilisation and refinement.

That we may have no partial evidence from abolitionists in this
inquiry, either, I will once more turn to their own newspapers, and
I will confine myself, this time, to a selection from paragraphs
which appeared from day to day, during my visit to America, and
which refer to occurrences happening while I was there. The
italics in these extracts, as in the foregoing, are my own.

These cases did not ALL occur, it will be seen, in territory
actually belonging to legalised Slave States, though most, and
those the very worst among them did, as their counterparts
constantly do; but the position of the scenes of action in
reference to places immediately at hand, where slavery is the law;
and the strong resemblance between that class of outrages and the
rest; lead to the just presumption that the character of the
parties concerned was formed in slave districts, and brutalised by
slave customs.


'By a slip from THE SOUTHPORT TELEGRAPH, Wisconsin, we learn that
the Hon. Charles C. P. Arndt, Member of the Council for Brown
county, was shot dead ON THE FLOOR OF THE COUNCIL CHAMBER, by James
R. Vinyard, Member from Grant county. THE AFFAIR grew out of a
nomination for Sheriff of Grant county. Mr. E. S. Baker was
nominated and supported by Mr. Arndt. This nomination was opposed
by Vinyard, who wanted the appointment to vest in his own brother.
In the course of debate, the deceased made some statements which
Vinyard pronounced false, and made use of violent and insulting
language, dealing largely in personalities, to which Mr. A. made no
reply. After the adjournment, Mr. A. stepped up to Vinyard, and
requested him to retract, which he refused to do, repeating the
offensive words. Mr. Arndt then made a blow at Vinyard, who
stepped back a pace, drew a pistol, and shot him dead.

'The issue appears to have been provoked on the part of Vinyard,
who was determined at all hazards to defeat the appointment of
Baker, and who, himself defeated, turned his ire and revenge upon
the unfortunate Arndt.'


Public indignation runs high in the territory of Wisconsin, in
relation to the murder of C. C. P. Arndt, in the Legislative Hall
of the Territory. Meetings have been held in different counties of
LEGISLATIVE CHAMBERS OF THE COUNTRY. We have seen the account of
the expulsion of James R. Vinyard, the perpetrator of the bloody
deed, and are amazed to hear, that, after this expulsion by those
who saw Vinyard kill Mr. Arndt in the presence of his aged father,
who was on a visit to see his son, little dreaming that he was to
Miners' Free Press speaks IN TERMS OF MERITED REBUKE at the outrage
upon the feelings of the people of Wisconsin. Vinyard was within
arm's length of Mr. Arndt, when he took such deadly aim at him,
that he never spoke. Vinyard might at pleasure, being so near,
have only wounded him, but he chose to kill him.'


By a letter in a St. Louis paper of the '4th, we notice a terrible
outrage at Burlington, Iowa. A Mr. Bridgman having had a
difficulty with a citizen of the place, Mr. Ross; a brother-in-law
of the latter provided himself with one of Colt's revolving
pistols, met Mr. B. in the street, AND DISCHARGED THE CONTENTS OF
though horribly wounded, and dying, returned the fire, and killed
Ross on the spot.'


'From the "Caddo Gazette," of the 12th inst., we learn the
frightful death of Colonel Robert Potter. . . . He was beset in his
house by an enemy, named Rose. He sprang from his couch, seized
his gun, and, in his night-clothes, rushed from the house. For
about two hundred yards his speed seemed to defy his pursuers; but,
getting entangled in a thicket, he was captured. Rose told him
THAT HE INTENDED TO ACT A GENEROUS PART, and give him a chance for
his life. He then told Potter he might run, and he should not be
interrupted till he reached a certain distance. Potter started at
the word of command, and before a gun was fired he had reached the
lake. His first impulse was to jump in the water and dive for it,
which he did. Rose was close behind him, and formed his men on the
bank ready to shoot him as he rose. In a few seconds he came up to
breathe; and scarce had his head reached the surface of the water
when it was completely riddled with the shot of their guns, and he
sunk, to rise no more!'


'We understand THAT A SEVERE RENCONTRE CAME OFF a few days since in
the Seneca Nation, between Mr. Loose, the sub-agent of the mixed
band of the Senecas, Quapaw, and Shawnees, and Mr. James Gillespie,
of the mercantile firm of Thomas G. Allison and Co., of Maysville,
Benton, County Ark, in which the latter was slain with a bowie-
knife. Some difficulty had for some time existed between the
parties. It is said that Major Gillespie brought on the attack
with a cane. A severe conflict ensued, during which two pistols
were fired by Gillespie and one by Loose. Loose then stabbed
Gillespie with one of those never-failing weapons, a bowie-knife.
The death of Major G. is much regretted, as he was a liberal-minded
and energetic man. Since the above was in type, we have learned
that Major Allison has stated to some of our citizens in town that
Mr. Loose gave the first blow. We forbear to give any particulars,


The steamer Thames, just from Missouri river, brought us a
handbill, offering a reward of 500 dollars, for the person who
assassinated Lilburn W. Baggs, late Governor of this State, at
Independence, on the night of the 6th inst. Governor Baggs, it is
stated in a written memorandum, was not dead, but mortally wounded.

'Since the above was written, we received a note from the clerk of
the Thames, giving the following particulars. Gov. Baggs was shot
by some villain on Friday, 6th inst., in the evening, while sitting
in a room in his own house in Independence. His son, a boy,
hearing a report, ran into the room, and found the Governor sitting
in his chair, with his jaw fallen down, and his head leaning back;
on discovering the injury done to his father, he gave the alarm.
Foot tracks were found in the garden below the window, and a pistol
picked up supposed to have been overloaded, and thrown from the
hand of the scoundrel who fired it. Three buck shots of a heavy
load, took effect; one going through his mouth, one into the brain,
and another probably in or near the brain; all going into the back
part of the neck and head. The Governor was still alive on the
morning of the 7th; but no hopes for his recovery by his friends,
and but slight hopes from his physicians.

'A man was suspected, and the Sheriff most probably has possession
of him by this time.

'The pistol was one of a pair stolen some days previous from a
baker in Independence, and the legal authorities have the
description of the other.'


'An unfortunate AFFAIR took place on Friday evening in Chatres
Street, in which one of our most respectable citizens received a
dangerous wound, from a poignard, in the abdomen. From the Bee
(New Orleans) of yesterday, we learn the following particulars. It
appears that an article was published in the French side of the
paper on Monday last, containing some strictures on the Artillery
Battalion for firing their guns on Sunday morning, in answer to
those from the Ontario and Woodbury, and thereby much alarm was
caused to the families of those persons who were out all night
preserving the peace of the city. Major C. Gally, Commander of the
battalion, resenting this, called at the office and demanded the
author's name; that of Mr. P. Arpin was given to him, who was
absent at the time. Some angry words then passed with one of the
proprietors, and a challenge followed; the friends of both parties
tried to arrange the affair, but failed to do so. On Friday
evening, about seven o'clock, Major Gally met Mr. P. Arpin in
Chatres Street, and accosted him. "Are you Mr. Arpin?"

'"Yes, sir."

'"Then I have to tell you that you are a - " (applying an
appropriate epithet).

'"I shall remind you of your words, sir."

'"But I have said I would break my cane on your shoulders."

'"I know it, but I have not yet received the blow."

'At these words, Major Gally, having a cane in his hands, struck
Mr. Arpin across the face, and the latter drew a poignard from his
pocket and stabbed Major Gally in the abdomen.

'Fears are entertained that the wound will be mortal. WE


'On the 27th ult., in an affray near Carthage, Leake county,
Mississippi, between James Cottingham and John Wilburn, the latter
was shot by the former, and so horribly wounded, that there was no
hope of his recovery. On the 2nd instant, there was an affray at
Carthage between A. C. Sharkey and George Goff, in which the latter
was shot, and thought mortally wounded. Sharkey delivered himself
up to the authorities, BUT CHANGED HIS MIND AND ESCAPED!'


'An encounter took place in Sparta, a few days since, between the
barkeeper of an hotel, and a man named Bury. It appears that Bury
had become somewhat noisy, AND THAT THE BARKEEPER, DETERMINED TO
pistol and shot the barkeeper down. He was not dead at the last
accounts, but slight hopes were entertained of his recovery.'


'The clerk of the steamboat TRIBUNE informs us that another duel
was fought on Tuesday last, by Mr. Robbins, a bank officer in
Vicksburg, and Mr. Fall, the editor of the Vicksburg Sentinel.
According to the arrangement, the parties had six pistols each,
which, after the word "Fire!" THEY WERE TO DISCHARGE AS FAST AS
THEY PLEASED. Fall fired two pistols without effect. Mr. Robbins'
first shot took effect in Fall's thigh, who fell, and was unable to
continue the combat.'


'An UNFORTUNATE AFFRAY occurred in Clarke county (MO.), near
Waterloo, on Tuesday the 19th ult., which originated in settling
the partnership concerns of Messrs. M'Kane and M'Allister, who had
been engaged in the business of distilling, and resulted in the
death of the latter, who was shot down by Mr. M'Kane, because of
his attempting to take possession of seven barrels of whiskey, the
property of M'Kane, which had been knocked off to M'Allister at a
sheriff's sale at one dollar per barrel. M'Kane immediately fled

'THIS UNFORTUNATE AFFRAY caused considerable excitement in the
neighbourhood, as both the parties were men with large families
depending upon them and stood well in the community.'

I will quote but one more paragraph, which, by reason of its
monstrous absurdity, may be a relief to these atrocious deeds.


'We have just heard the particulars of a meeting which took place
on Six Mile Island, on Tuesday, between two young bloods of our
city: Samuel Thurston, AGED FIFTEEN, and William Hine, AGED
THIRTEEN years. They were attended by young gentlemen of the same
age. The weapons used on the occasion, were a couple of Dickson's
best rifles; the distance, thirty yards. They took one fire,
without any damage being sustained by either party, except the ball
of Thurston's gun passing through the crown of Hine's hat. THROUGH
withdrawn, and the difference amicably adjusted.'

If the reader will picture to himself the kind of Board of Honour
which amicably adjusted the difference between these two little
boys, who in any other part of the world would have been amicably
adjusted on two porters' backs and soundly flogged with birchen
rods, he will be possessed, no doubt, with as strong a sense of its
ludicrous character, as that which sets me laughing whenever its
image rises up before me.

Now, I appeal to every human mind, imbued with the commonest of
common sense, and the commonest of common humanity; to all
dispassionate, reasoning creatures, of any shade of opinion; and
ask, with these revolting evidences of the state of society which
exists in and about the slave districts of America before them, can
they have a doubt of the real condition of the slave, or can they
for a moment make a compromise between the institution or any of
its flagrant, fearful features, and their own just consciences?
Will they say of any tale of cruelty and horror, however aggravated
in degree, that it is improbable, when they can turn to the public
prints, and, running, read such signs as these, laid before them by
the men who rule the slaves: in their own acts and under their own

Do we not know that the worst deformity and ugliness of slavery are
at once the cause and the effect of the reckless license taken by
these freeborn outlaws? Do we not know that the man who has been
born and bred among its wrongs; who has seen in his childhood
husbands obliged at the word of command to flog their wives; women,
indecently compelled to hold up their own garments that men might
lay the heavier stripes upon their legs, driven and harried by
brutal overseers in their time of travail, and becoming mothers on
the field of toil, under the very lash itself; who has read in
youth, and seen his virgin sisters read, descriptions of runaway
men and women, and their disfigured persons, which could not be
published elsewhere, of so much stock upon a farm, or at a show of
beasts:- do we not know that that man, whenever his wrath is
kindled up, will be a brutal savage? Do we not know that as he is
a coward in his domestic life, stalking among his shrinking men and
women slaves armed with his heavy whip, so he will be a coward out
of doors, and carrying cowards' weapons hidden in his breast, will
shoot men down and stab them when he quarrels? And if our reason
did not teach us this and much beyond; if we were such idiots as to
close our eyes to that fine mode of training which rears up such
men; should we not know that they who among their equals stab and
pistol in the legislative halls, and in the counting-house, and on
the marketplace, and in all the elsewhere peaceful pursuits of
life, must be to their dependants, even though they were free
servants, so many merciless and unrelenting tyrants?

What! shall we declaim against the ignorant peasantry of Ireland,
and mince the matter when these American taskmasters are in
question? Shall we cry shame on the brutality of those who
hamstring cattle: and spare the lights of Freedom upon earth who
notch the ears of men and women, cut pleasant posies in the
shrinking flesh, learn to write with pens of red-hot iron on the
human face, rack their poetic fancies for liveries of mutilation
which their slaves shall wear for life and carry to the grave,
breaking living limbs as did the soldiery who mocked and slew the
Saviour of the world, and set defenceless creatures up for targets!
Shall we whimper over legends of the tortures practised on each
other by the Pagan Indians, and smile upon the cruelties of
Christian men! Shall we, so long as these things last, exult above
the scattered remnants of that race, and triumph in the white
enjoyment of their possessions? Rather, for me, restore the forest
and the Indian village; in lieu of stars and stripes, let some poor
feather flutter in the breeze; replace the streets and squares by
wigwams; and though the death-song of a hundred haughty warriors
fill the air, it will be music to the shriek of one unhappy slave.

On one theme, which is commonly before our eyes, and in respect of
which our national character is changing fast, let the plain Truth
be spoken, and let us not, like dastards, beat about the bush by
hinting at the Spaniard and the fierce Italian. When knives are
drawn by Englishmen in conflict let it be said and known: 'We owe
this change to Republican Slavery. These are the weapons of
Freedom. With sharp points and edges such as these, Liberty in
America hews and hacks her slaves; or, failing that pursuit, her
sons devote them to a better use, and turn them on each other.'

Content of CHAPTER XVI - SLAVERY [Charles Dickens' novel: American Notes]




Table of content of American Notes


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