A Reply

The author of Uncle Tom's Cabin urges her the women of England to action against slavery


Signed by

ANNA MARIA BEDFORD (Duchess of Bedford).
CONSTANCE GROSVENOR (Countess Grosvenor).
HARRIET SUTHERLAND (Duchess of Sutherland).
ELIZABETH ARGYLL (Duchess of Argyll).
ELIZABETH FORTESCUE (Countess Fortescue).
EMILY SHAFTESBURY (Countess of Shaftesbury).
MARY RUTHVEN (Baroness Ruthven).
M.A. MILMAN (Wife of Dean of St. Paul's).
R. BUXTON (Daughter of Sir Thomas Powell Buxton).
CAROLINE AMELIA OWEN (Wife of Professor Owen).
C.A. HATHERTON (Baroness Hatherton).
ELIZABETH DUCIE (Countess Dowager of Ducie).
CECILIA PARKE (Wife of Baron Parke).
MARY ANN CHALLIS (Wife of the Lord Mayor of London).
E. GORDON (Duchess Dowager of Gordon).
ANNA M.L. MELVILLE (Daughter of Earl of Leven and Melville).
A. HILL (Viscountess Hill).
MRS. GOBAT (Wife of Bishop Gobat of Jerusalem).
E. PALMERSTON (Viscountess Palmerston).
and others.

Sisters,--More than eight years ago you sent to us in America a document with the above heading. It is as follows:--

"A common origin, a common faith, and, we sincerely believe, a common cause, urge us, at the present moment, to address you on the subject of that system of negro slavery which still prevails so extensively, and, even under kindly disposed masters, with such frightful results, in many of the vast regions of the Western world.

"We will not dwell on the ordinary topics,--on the progress of civilization, on the advance of freedom everywhere, on the rights and requirements of the nineteenth century; but we appeal to you very seriously to reflect and to ask counsel of God how far such a state of things is in accordance with His Holy Word, the inalienable rights of immortal souls, and the pure and merciful spirit of the Christian religion. We do not shut our eyes to the difficulties, nay, the dangers, that might beset the immediate abolition of that long-established system. We see and admit the necessity of preparation for so great an event; but, in speaking of indispensable preliminaries, we cannot be silent on those laws of your country which, in direct contravention of God's own law, 'instituted in the time of man's innocency,' deny in effect to the slave the sanctity of marriage, with all its joys, rights, and obligations; which separate, at the will of the master, the wife from the husband and the children from the parents. Nor can we be silent on that awful system which either by statute or by custom interdicts to any race of man or any portion of the human family education in the truths of the gospel and the ordinances of Christianity. A remedy applied to these two evils alone would commence the amelioration of their sad condition. We appeal to you, then, as sisters, as wives, and as mothers, to raise your voices to your fellow-citizens and your prayers to God for the removal of this affliction and disgrace from the Christian world.

"We do not say these things in a spirit of self-complacency, as though our nation were free from the guilt it perceives in others.

"We acknowledge with grief and shame our heavy share in this great sin. We acknowledge that our forefathers introduced, nay, compelled the adoption of slavery in those mighty colonies. We humbly confess it before Almighty God; and it is because we so deeply feel and so unfeignedly avow our own complicity, that we now venture to implore your aid to wipe away our common crime and our common dishonor."

This address, splendidly illuminated on vellum, was sent to our shores at the head of twenty-six folio volumes, containing considerably more than half a million of signatures of British women. It was forwarded to me with a letter from a British nobleman now occupying one of the highest official positions in England, with a request on behalf of these ladies that it should be in any possible way presented to the attention of my countrywomen.

This memorial, as it now stands in its solid oaken case, with its heavy folios, each bearing on its back the imprint of the American eagle, forms a most unique library, a singular monument of an international expression of a moral idea.

No right-thinking person can find aught to be objected against the substance or the form of this memorial. It is temperate, just, and kindly, and on the high ground of Christian equality, where it places itself, may be regarded as a perfectly proper expression of sentiment, as between blood-relations and equals in two different nations.

The signatures to this appeal are not the least remarkable part of it; for, beginning at the very steps of the throne, they go down to the names of women in the very humblest conditions in life, and represent all that Great Britain possesses, not only of highest and wisest, but of plain, homely common sense and good feeling. Names of wives of cabinet-ministers appear on the same page with the names of wives of humble laborers,--names of duchesses and countesses, of wives of generals, ambassadors, savans, and men of letters, mingled with names traced in trembling characters by hands evidently unused to hold the pen and stiffened by lowly toil. Nay, so deep and expansive was the feeling, that British subjects in foreign lands had their representation. Among the signatures are those of foreign residents from Paris to Jerusalem. Autographs so diverse, and collected from sources so various, have seldom been found in juxtaposition. They remain at this day a silent witness of a most singular tide of feeling which at that time swept over the British community, and made for itself an expression, even at the risk of offending the sensibilities of an equal and powerful nation.

No reply to that address, in any such tangible and monumental form, has ever been possible. It was impossible to canvass our vast territories with the zealous and indefatigable industry with which England was canvassed for signatures. In America, those possessed of the spirit which led to this efficient action had no leisure for it. All their time and energies were already absorbed in direct efforts to remove the great evil concerning which the minds of their English sisters had been newly aroused, and their only answer was the silent continuance of these efforts.

From the Slaveholding States, however, as was to be expected, came a flood of indignant recrimination and rebuke. No one act, perhaps, ever produced more frantic irritation or called out more unsparing abuse. It came with the whole united weight of the British aristocracy and commonalty on the most diseased and sensitive part of our national life; and it stimulated that fierce excitement which was working before and has worked since till it has broken out into open war.

The time has come, however, when such an astonishing page has been turned in the anti-slavery history of America, that the women of our country, feeling that the great anti-slavery work to which their English sisters exhorted them is almost done, may properly and naturally feel moved to reply to their appeal, and lay before them the history of what has occurred since the receipt of their affectionate and Christian address.

Your address reached us just as a great moral conflict was coming to its intensest point.

The agitation kept up by the anti-slavery portion of America, by England, and by the general sentiment of humanity in Europe, had made the situation of the slaveholding aristocracy intolerable. As one of them at the time expressed it, they felt themselves under the ban of the civilized world. Two courses only were open to them: to abandon slave institutions, the sources of their wealth and political power, or to assert them with such an overwhelming national force as to compel the respect and assent of mankind. They chose the latter.

To this end they determined to seize on and control all the resources of the Federal Government, and to spread their institutions through new States and Territories until the balance of power should fall into their hands and they should be able to force slavery into all the Free States.

A leading Southern senator boasted that he would yet call the roll of his slaves on Bunker Hill; and, for a while, the political successes of the Slave Power were such as to suggest to New England that this was no impossible event.

They repealed the Missouri Compromise, which had hitherto stood, like the Chinese wall, between our Northwestern Territories and the irruptions of slaveholding barbarians.

Then came the struggle between Freedom and Slavery in the new Territory,--the battle for Kansas and Nebraska, fought with fire and sword and blood, where a race of men, of whom John Brown was the immortal type, acted over again the courage, the perseverance, and the military religious ardor of the old Covenanters of Scotland, and, like them, redeemed the Ark of Liberty at the price of their own blood and blood dearer than their own.

The time of the Presidential canvass which elected Mr. Lincoln was the crisis of this great battle. The conflict had become narrowed down to the one point of the extension of slave-territory. If the slaveholders could get States enough, they could control and rule; if they were outnumbered by Free States, their institutions, by the very law of their nature, would die of suffocation. Therefore, Fugitive-Slave Law, District of Columbia, Inter-State Slave-Trade, and what not, were all thrown out of sight for a grand rally on this vital point. A President was elected pledged to opposition to this one thing alone,--a man known to be in favor of the Fugitive-Slave Law and other so-called compromises of the Constitution, but honest and faithful in his determination on this one subject. That this was indeed the vital point was shown by the result. The moment Lincoln's election was ascertained, the slaveholders resolved to destroy the Union they could no longer control.

They met and organized a Confederacy which they openly declared to be the first republic founded on the right and determination of the white man to enslave the black man, and, spreading their banners, declared themselves to the Christian world of the nineteenth century as a nation organized with the full purpose and intent of perpetuating slavery.

But in the course of the struggle that followed, it became important for the new Confederation to secure the assistance of foreign powers, and infinite pains were then taken to blind and bewilder the mind of England as to the real issues of the conflict in America.

It has been often and earnestly asserted that slavery had nothing to do with this conflict; that it was a mere struggle for power; that the only object was to restore the Union as it was, with all its abuses. It is to be admitted that expressions have proceeded from the National Administration which naturally gave rise to misapprehension, and therefore we beg to speak to you on this subject more fully.

And, first, the declaration of the Confederate States themselves is proof enough, that, whatever may be declared on the other side, the maintenance of slavery is regarded by them as the vital object of their movement.

We ask your attention under this head to the declaration of their Vice-President, Stephens, in that remarkable speech delivered on the 21st of March, 1861, at Savannah, Georgia, wherein he declares the object and purposes of the new Confederacy. It is one of the most extraordinary papers which our century has produced. I quote from the verbatim report in the Savannah "Republican" of the address as it was delivered in the Athenaeum of that city, on which occasion, says the newspaper from which I copy, "Mr. Stephens took his seat amid a burst of enthusiasm and applause, such as the Athenaeum has never had displayed within its walls, within 'the recollection of the oldest inhabitant.'"

"Last, not least, the new Constitution has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution,--African Slavery as it exists among us, the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson, in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the 'rock upon which the old Union would split.' He was right. What was conjecture with him is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old Constitution were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of Nature, that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with; but the general opinion of the men of that day was, that, somehow or other, in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent, and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the Constitution, was the prevailing idea at the time. The Constitution, it is true, secured every essential guaranty to the institution, while it should last; and hence no argument can be justly used against the Constitutional guaranties thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation; and the idea of a government built upon it--when 'the storm came and the wind blew, it fell.'

"Our new government is founded upon on exactly the opposite ideas: its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition. (Applause.) This our new government is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.

"This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It is so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North who still cling to these errors with a zeal above knowledge we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind, from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises. So with the anti-slavery fanatics: their conclusions are right, if their premises are. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just; but their premises being wrong, their whole argument fails.

* * * * *

"In the conflict thus far, success has been on our side complete, throughout the length and breadth of the Confederate States. It is upon this, as I have stated, our social fabric is firmly planted; and I cannot permit myself to doubt the ultimate success of a full recognition of this principle throughout the civilized and enlightened world.

"As I have stated, the truth of this principle may be slow in development, as all truths are, and ever have been, in the various branches of science. It was so with the principles announced by Galileo; it was so with Adam Smith and his principles of political economy; It was so with Harvey in his theory of the circulation of the blood. It is said that not a single one of the medical profession, at the time of the announcement of the truths made by him, admitted them; now they are universally acknowledged. May we not, therefore, look with confidence to the ultimate universal acknowledgment of the truths upon which our system rests? It is the first government ever instituted upon principles in strict conformity to Nature and the ordination of Providence in furnishing the material of human society. Many governments have been founded upon the principles of certain classes; but the classes thus enslaved were of the same race and in violation of the laws of Nature. Our system commits no such violation of Nature's laws. The negro, by Nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. The architect, in the construction of buildings, lays the foundation with the proper material,--the granite; then comes the brick or marble. The substratum of our society is made of the material fitted by Nature for it; and by experience we know that it is best not only for the superior, but the inferior race, that it should be so. It is indeed in conformity with the Creator. It is not safe for us to inquire into the wisdom of His ordinances, or to question them. For His own purposes He has made one race to differ from another, as one star differeth from another in glory. The great objects of humanity are best attained, when conformed to His laws and decrees in the formation of government as well as in all things else. Our Confederacy is founded on a strict conformity with those laws. This stone, which was rejected by the first builders, has become the chief stone of the corner in our new edifice!"

Thus far the declarations of the slave-holding Confederacy.

On the other hand, the declarations of the President and the Republican party, as to their intention to restore "the Union as it was," require an explanation. It is the doctrine of the Republican party, that Freedom is national and Slavery sectional; that the Constitution of the United States was designed for the promotion of liberty, and not of slavery; that its framers contemplated the gradual abolition of slavery; and that in the hands of an anti-slavery majority it could be so wielded as peaceably to extinguish this great evil.

They reasoned thus. Slavery ruins land, and requires fresh territory for profitable working. Slavery increases a dangerous population, and requires an expansion of this population for safety. Slavery, then, being hemmed in by impassable limits, emancipation in each State becomes a necessity.

By restoring the Union as it was the Republican party meant the Union in the sense contemplated by the original framers of it, who, as has been admitted by Stephens, in his speech just quoted, were from principle opposed to slavery. It was, then, restoring a status in which, by the inevitable operation of natural laws, peaceful emancipation would become a certainty.

In the mean while, during the past year, the Republican Administration, with all the unwonted care of organizing an army and navy, and conducting military operations on an immense scale, have proceeded to demonstrate the feasibility of overthrowing slavery by purely Constitutional measures. To this end they have instituted a series of movements which have made this year more fruitful in anti-slavery triumphs than any other since the emancipation of the British West Indies.

The District of Columbia, as belonging strictly to the National Government, and to no separate State, has furnished a fruitful subject of remonstrance from British Christians with America. We have abolished slavery there, and thus wiped out the only blot of territorial responsibility on our escutcheon.

By another act, equally grand principle, and far more important in its results, slavery is forever excluded from the Territories of the United States.

By another act, America has consummated the long-delayed treaty with Great Britain for the suppression of the slave-trade. In ports whence slave-vessels formerly sailed with the connivance of the port-officers, the Administration has placed men who stand up to their duty, and for the first time in our history the slave-trader, is convicted and hung as a pirate. This abominable secret traffic has been wholly demolished by the energy of the Federal Government.

Lastly, and more significant still, the United States Government has in its highest official capacity taken distinct anti-slavery ground, and presented to the country a plan of peaceable emancipation with suitable compensation. This noble-spirited and generous offer has been urged on the Slaveholding States by the Chief Executive with an earnestness and sincerity of which history in after-times will make honorable account in recording the events of Mr. Lincoln's administration.

Now, when a President and Administration who have done all these things declare their intention of restoring "the Union as it was," ought not the world fairly to interpret their words by their actions and their avowed principles? Is it not necessary to infer that they mean by it the Union as it was in the intent of its anti-slavery framers, under which, by the exercise of normal Constitutional powers, slavery should be peaceably abolished?

We are aware that this theory of the Constitution has been disputed by certain Abolitionists; but it is conceded, you have seen, by the Secessionists. Whether it be a just theory or not is, however, nothing to our purpose at present. We only assert that such is the professed belief of the present Administration of the United States, and such are the acts by which they have illustrated their belief.

But this is but half the story of the anti-slavery triumphs of this year. We have shown you what has been done for freedom by the simple use of the ordinary Constitutional forces of the Union. We are now to show you what has been done to the same end by the Constitutional war-power of the nation.

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