London: Saturday, August 12, 1865The Illustrated London News, vol. 47, no. 1328, p. 130-131.
August 12, 1865
"There goes reason to roasting of eggs," says the very old proverb, implying that even the simplest affair of life demands a certain amount of common-sense. What are we to think, then, of men who have before them the most important and elaborate problem which can occupy the minds of statesmen, and who apparently begin by withdrawing common-sense from among the aids to the solution? We allude, as will probably be guessed, to those of the American politicians who, having to reconstruct the South, propose to give the suffrage to the unprepared black population. It is difficult to deal gravely with the idea; but, nevertheless, a powerful party erects it into a principle, and threatens loudly in its defence.
In accordance with their usual gracious custom when a European opinion is advanced on a question affecting the Americans, they may begin by apprising us that the business is not ours, and that, inasmuch as they have carried on a war without our interference, they may be supposed equally capable of adjusting the administrative difficulties arising out of that war. Both propositions we must take the great liberty of disputing. The business is ours, in a great if only a secondary degree. With the territorial arrangements of the Americans, so long as our colonies are unassailed, we admit that we have not much concern. Whether the States consist of one mighty and glorious republic, which holds together the most opposite peoples by force of a sentiment rather than by any natural or very reasonable union, or whether they fall into two or three divisions, in accordance with what would seem to be the dictate of instinct, are not circumstances materially affecting ourselves. It is to our interest that America should be prosperous and peaceful; and whatever arrangements may most conduce to render her so must be favourably regarded by us. It is with her internal condition that we are concerned; and, looking at the subject from a commercial point of view, and borrowing an illustration from commerce, we contend that we have a right to be heard. We are doing much business, and we hope to do much more, with the great house of Liberty, Johnson, and Co. If that house chooses to carry on its business in what we think an inexpedient fashion, and to bring under one roof a miscellaneous assemblage of "stores" which might be better managed apart, we have no title to complain. But, as we are very much interested in the success of the great house, and as we desire to do a good deal with one especial department, we are surely justified in protesting, when we go in to attend to our own affairs with it, if, instead of meeting with liberal managers and gentlemanly clerks, we are handed over to a body of Ethiopian serenaders, who sit on the counters, neglect the packages, and sing black ditties during business hours. This is the sort of thing with which we are now menaced, and we therefore crave leave to say that customers ought to be considered. The fact that the Americans are as capable of adjusting administrative difficulties as of fighting gallant battles is by no means made clear to us by the other fact that a large number of persons in the States are favourably inclined towards the Black franchise.
Now, we really cannot go into first principles every time that we have to discuss important details. Such a process is dear to the nature of vestrymen and the like, to juvenile debaters in societies, and to that large class of individuals who, in private life, are known and avoided as bores. We have often said, and we beg to refer to our recorded sentiments, that we detest slavery; and, though we wish that the American slaves had been freed gradually and peacefully, instead of by a hideous war, we rejoice that slavery has been done away. But we do not mean to be always saying this. It is with Sambo the American citizen, and not Sambo the oppressed negro, that we have now to deal; and we conceive that it is most courteous to that interesting person himself to treat him in his new capacity, and only to glance at his unfortunate antecedents when his ambition, or that of his absurd friends, forces them upon our
Page 131recollection. We heartily congratulate him on his freedom, and, that being said, we must use a little freedom of our own.
The Abolitionists, or the least moderate and sensible among them, are displaying the bigotry of men with one idea, and they refuse to listen to the councils of men who have several ideas, and who will not tolerate slavery of the mind. Having fought out the battle, and having stricken away the negro's fetters, these pseudo-friends of his insist that, in spite of the cramping process which he has undergone from childhood, he is a mental athlete, and suddenly capable of all the work for which others have had to be trained. Sambo, whose highest aim had been the avoidance of more work than he was compelled to do, whose chief happiness had been in fantastic dances and idiotic songs, or, when he took to religion, in the lowest form of devotional sentimentality, is now to be an elector, to weigh the merits of statesmen, and to come dancing up to the ballot-box with an inordinate development of shirt-collar in honour of the nation, and to record his choice between Massa Chase and Massa Seward, should those gentlemen be rival candidates. That such an idea should be seriously entertained is almost incredible, but we wish that it were only funny. Were the election one of a municipal councillor or a beadle, it would be richly comic to see a jobbing tradesman or a pompous bumble soliciting the support of a black patron and being answered with the ineffable air of superiority which Sambo can put on; but the choice is to be of men who govern one mighty empire and hold relations with half a dozen.
England has been so truly and zealously "anti-slavery" that she can afford to speak out in this matter. It is a mockery to place the franchise in the hands of the blacks in their present condition, as a mass. The existence of a few score, or, at most, a few hundred, who are educated, is nothing in the argument, save that it is the invaluable exception. To return to our eggs. Charge a man with selling you a dozen bad, and he exhibits a single fresh one among them, and your own case is proved. So with the negroes. Those who pedantically contend for their enfranchisement, for the sake of a sham consistency, know perfectly well that they are not to be trusted with the most ordinary business transaction; and yet it is to such a population that the choice of political representatives is to be given. The shout of laughter with which the idea has been received here will be echoed again and again, but the proportions of the question make it too important for mere laughter. We appeal to the sanity of America against its bigotry.