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The Negro in America

The Illustrated London News, vol. 46, no. 1301, p. 143.

February 11, 1865


"The coloured man," said Mr. Frederick Douglas [i.e., Douglass], the eloquent negro orator, at a lecture which he recently delivered in New York, "is the master of the situation. Upon whichever side he shall declare himself, on that side will be the victory." Mr. Douglas [sic] knows his people, and does not exaggerate the importance of their action in the mighty struggle, of which their emancipation was the pretext rather than the cause; and, knowing them so well, his opinion that they will fight for their masters, on the promise of freedom to themselves and families; that they will not, as some abolitionists have predicted, turn their arms against the cause in which their services are enlisted; but that, on the contrary, they will zealously, faithfully, and bravely earn their liberty on the terms proposed, is entitled to the respect which all opinion founded upon knowledge claims from every rational man. As the South, under the pressure of military necessity, is about to make this vital experiment, for the sake of replenishing the ranks of its dwindling and decimated armies, the time is favourable for a review of the progress already made in the emancipation of the coloured race. As a preliminary to the full comprehension of the subject, it should be steadily borne in mind that the South, though it has always been pro-slavery, has always been pro-negro; and that the North has, in like manner, been anti-slavery and anti-negro. The South has maintained that it was a good thing for America that the negroes should remain in it and increase and multiply, and that it was a better thing for the negro that he should be a slave than a free man. The North, on the other hand, has maintained as strenuously that slavery was an abomination, an outrage, and a crime; but that, all things considered, it was a very bad thing for America that the negro race had ever been introduced into it; and that if slavery were an evil, free blacks were evils almost, if not quite, as flagrant. Social prejudice set up and still insists on this preposterous claim. The result is that throughout the North, the negro is systematically repressed and deprived of social position and political privilege by the tyranny of custom and the nameless operation of social laws. In some of the States in the West neither negro slavery nor negroes are allowed to exist; and in Illinois, if not in Indiana, it is a penal offence for a coloured man to cross their borders and presume that he has any right to dwell among his white superiors. The negroes of the North feel this social excommunication more acutely than the negroes of the South feel the oppression of slavery. In the South the white man does not hate the negro, nor the negro the white man; while in the North the love felt by antislavery agitators and others for the negro is purely theoretical and political, and not in the slightest degree social; while the opinion entertained by the negroes of their white "friends," who talk so much and do so little in their behalf, is of the kind which most men entertain towards palpable hypocrisy. Mr. Lincoln once told a deputation of negroes that the best thing they and their race could do would be to take themselves out of the country, to go back to Africa, or drift down into Central America. Mr. Douglas [sic] , speaking for his race, declares that they will do nothing of the kind; that they will not be "improved off the face of the earth," like the red Indians; that they have found a home in America, and that they will keep it; and that their true place is among friendly, and not among hostile, white people. Possibly, and very probably, the result of Northern love for emancipation and of dislike for the negro may be, if the South should achieve or help to achieve its independence by the aid of the coloured people, that the Northern negroes will gradually, if not collectively, migrate to the South, attracted by the superior congeniality of the climate. In the North their natural increase is not so great as in the South; in fact, if their numbers were not augmented by fugitives from slavery, they would die out as a people in a certain calculable length of time, as may be discovered from the fact that the annual number of deaths among them is greater than that of the births.

The South hold the doctrine that the Federal Government had neither the right nor the power to abolish slavery, but that the only agency which could effect the purpose was the lawful and Constitutional legislation of the States in which the institution existed. Mr. Lincoln, for military reasons and for State necessity, abolished slavery by proclamation and by stroke of the pen as the Pope would abolish heresy by an encyclical letter. But slavery remained unaffected by his fulminations and only perished in districts where his armies were able to penetrate, holding its own as firmly elsewhere as if he had never issued his proclamation against it. And now, in the fourth year of the war, though slavery is falling right and left, it is not because of his proclamation, but because the Border States of Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri have, in their sovereign capacity, resolved to abolish it. Congress, which is ready to indorse all Mr. Lincoln's words and deeds, finding the futility of "proclamations" or "edicts" of military power, debates an amendment to the Federal Constitution--a document which permits slavery, but which, if the amendment shall pass, it will tolerate no longer. And, more effectual than anything that the North can do or propose, the South takes measures, not alone to emancipate its slaves, but to elevate them in the social scale, and link the fortunes of the white man and the black by the ties of mutual interest and reciprocal gratitude. The black man man in the North is free, but a pariah. In the South, it is probable that the black man who shall have served in the Confederate army will be free, and as much of a man as soldiership and the respect of his white contemporaries can make him.

It would appear from a consideration of all these circumstances that the emancipation of the slaves is more likely to be satisfactorily effected by the Southern than by the Northern people. So passionately does the North love the Union, so immense are the sacrifices of pride, as well as of material resources, that it is prepared to make for its darling object, that, were the South to declare that it would lay down its arms on the sole condition of the maintenance of slavery by the whole force of the united Governments, the majority of the North would in all probability accede to the proposal. The negroes know the fact; and such men as Douglas [sic] give very significant hints at all available opportunities that they will not consent to be played with by either side, but will make their own bargain whenever they think they have arrived at the decisive moment of the struggle. There can be little doubt that the South can be of greater benefit to them than the North; that the South, by reason of its climate, is a better home for people of their blood than the frozen regions of New York, New England, or the great North-West; and that, under a properly-organised system of labour which would be necessary to prevent them from becoming paupers in becoming free men, the South, if it should be recognised among the independent nations of the earth, would be enabled, by means of its freed negroes, to develop its immense sources more rapidly than it was ever able to do under the system of slavery; and that, finally, slavery would disappear altogether. Should, however, the South be conquered, the question of the negro as well as the question of slavery will not be so easily settled. Slavery may be abolished, but the Northern overseer will take the place of the Southern master, the relations of the races will be as unkindly throughout the whole Union as they now are in the North, and the poor negro will be fortunate if he escape in the sequel the fate of other races that could not be enslaved and as a consequence were exterminated.

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