Slavery and Secession in America, Historical and Economical; Together With a Practical Scheme of Emancipation


By THOMAS ELLISON, F. S. S., etc. Second Edition : Enlarged. With a Reply to the Fundamental Arguments of Mr. James Spence, contained in his Work on the American Union, and Remarks on the Productions of Other Writers. With Map and Appendices. London : Sampson Low, Son, & Co.
WE have too long delayed to speak of Mr. Ellison’s book. More than a year ago, before Mr. Stuart Mill or Professor Cairnes had written in our behalf, before we had received a word of sympathy from any representative Englishman, save Mr. John Bright, the first edition of this work was placed before the British public. And we could not have asked for a better informed or more judicious defender than Mr. Ellison. “ Slavery and Secession in America ” is a temperate and concise statement of the essential features of our national struggle. The supposed interest of half a million of slaveholders in the extension of the Southern institution is truly represented as the cause of their guilty insurrection against the liberties of their countrymen. Mr. Ellison does not desire immediate emancipation, and wastes no sentiment upon the sufferings of the negro. But the economical and social position of Slavery is given with the unanswerable emphasis of careful figures. He traces the rise and increase of the institution in the States, until its disgrace culminates in a bloody rebellion. He clearly shows, that, by acknowledging the doctrine involved in Secession, by allowing it to govern the intercourse between nations, the morality of society would be shaken from its base. The anti-slavery character of the strife in which we are involved is made to appear, — slavery-diffusion being the object of the South, slavery-restriction the aim of the North. It is shown that the Secession ordinances utterly failed to point out a single instance in which the rights of the Southern people were infringed upon by the National Executive; also, that the alleged right of Secession is neither Constitutional, nor, when backed by no tangible grievance, can it be called revolutionary. In short, Mr. Ellison takes the only ground which seems possible to loyalists in America: namely, that Secession — in other words, the treason of slaveholders against the Constitution of their country — is of necessity punishable by law; and that good men of all nationalities should unite in the moral support of a benignant government thus wantonly assailed.
The “ practical scheme of emancipation ” promised us in the title can hardly be said to amount to a scheme at all; but there are suggestions worth attending to, if that delicate matter might be managed as we would, not as we must.
We have marked but two passages for a questioning comment. General Taylor, by an inadvertency strange to pass to a second edition, is represented as putting down the South-Carolina Nullifiers in 1833. Also, Dr. Charles Mackay, the New-York Correspondent of the London “ Times,” is quoted as having once borne anti-slavery testimony. This is certainly hard. Whatever emoluments slave - masters or their allies may hereafter have it in their power to bestow this gentleman has fairly earned. If he ever did say anything that was disagreeable to them, it should not be remembered against him.
The merit of Mr. Ellison’s book is neither in rhetoric, philanthropic sentiment, nor any exalted theory of political philosophy ; it is in an unanswerable appeal to statistics, and a condensed statement of facts. The work may be commended to all desirous of arriving at the truth.
But no conventional phrases of a booknotice can express our obligations to Mr. Ellison and those few of his countrymen who have publicly rebuked the noisy bitterness of writers striving, with too much success, to debauch the sentiment of England. Most dear to us is an occasional lull in that storm of insolence and mendacity designed to embarrass the Government of the United States in the august and solemn championship of human liberty committed to its charge. And let it be remarked that our expectations of English approval were never Utopian. The great principle involved in the American contest was so far above the level of the ordinary pursuits of men, that, even among ourselves, few have been able to transfuse it into their daily consciousness. We never looked to England for the encouragement of a popular enthusiasm,—hardly, perhaps, for a cold acquiescence. John Bull, we said, is proverbially a grumbler, proverbially indifferent to all affairs but his own; he will be annoyed by tariffs, and plagued by scarcity of cotton ; — what wonder, if we are a little misunderstood ? The minor contributors to his daily press will not he able to think long or wisely of what they write; we must be ready to pardon a certain amount of irritation and misstatement. That such was the feeling of intelligent Americans towards England, at the beginning of our troubles, we have no doubt. But for the scurrility heaped upon us by what claims to be the higher British press we were totally unprepared, — and for this good reason, that such malignity of criticism as is possible in America could never have suggested it. Let us not be misunderstood. We acknowledge the “ Rowdy Journal ” and Mr. Jefferson Brick. Undoubtedly, newspapers exist among us of which the description of Mr. Dickens is no very extravagant caricature. But their editors, if not of notoriously infamous life, are those whose minds are unenlarged by any generous education,— men whose lack of grammar suggests a certain palliation of their want of veracity and good-breeding. Such journals are seldom or never seen by the large class of cultivated American readers, and are in no sense representative of them. The "Saturday Review ” and “ Blackwood’s Magazine” are said to be conducted by men of University training. Their articles are written in clear and precise English, and often contain vigorous thought. They publish few papers which do not give evidence of at least tolerable scholarship in their writers. Of kindred periodicals on this side of the ocean it may be safely said, that the intelligence of the reader forces their criticism up to some decent standard of honest painstaking. We may thus explain the bewilderment which came over us at that burst of vulgar ribaldry from the leading British press, in which the organs above named have achieved a scandalous preëminence. Vibrating from the extreme of shallowness to the extreme of sufficiency, scorning to be limited in abuse by adhering to any single hypothesis, the current literature of England has gloated over the rebellion of Slavery with the cynical chuckles of a sour spinster. Would that language less strong could express our meaning! President Lincoln — whatever may be judged his deficiency in resources of statesmanship — will be embalmed by history as one possessing many qualities peculiarly adapted to our perilous crisis, together with an integrity of life and purpose honorably representing the yeomanry of the Republic. This man, the ruler of a friendly people, British journalists have proclaimed guilty of crimes to which the records of the darkest despotisms can scarcely furnish a parallel. The precious blood of Ellsworth was taken by the “ Saturday Review ” as the text of such disgraceful banter as we trust few bar-keepers in America would bestow upon a bully killed in a pot-house fray. General Butler, for a verbal infelicity in an order of imperative necessity and wholesome effect, has been befouled by language which no careful historian would apply to Tiberius or Louis XV. But enough of this. We should be glad to believe that these utterers of false witness were boorish men, in dark and desperate ignorance of the true bearing of our current affairs. We are unable so to believe.
It is a relief to turn to that small company of Englishmen who have extended brother-hands to us in the day of our necessity. No world-homage of literary admiration is worth the personal emotion with which they are recognized in America as representatives of that Old England which has place in the affection and gratitude of every cultivated man among us. They have done us justice, when contempt for justice alone was popular, and a cynical skepticism seemed the only retreat from blatant abuse. Cairnes, Mill, Ellison, and others whom we need not name, — for the sake of such men let us still think of England in generous temper. Their sympathies have been with us through this terrible arbitrament of arms ; they were with us in that solemn close of the old year, when the destiny of our dumb four millions weighed upon the night. These men have told us that the principle for which we contend is sound and worthy : they may also tell us that we have made occasional mistakes in reducing the principle to practice; and of this we are painfully conscious. It is well for us to forego that reckless bravado of unexampled prosperity once so offensive to foreign ears. Yet the best thing we ever had to boast of has been with us in the storm. According to the admirable observation of Niebuhr, — “Liberty exists where public opinion can constrain Government to fulfil its duties, and where, on the other side, in times of popular infatuation, the Government can maintain a wise course in spite of public opinion.” This liberty has been preserved to us through all the turbulence of war. Like some divine element, it has mingled in the convulsion of human passion, and already prophesies the day when the service of man to man, as of man to God, shall be rendered in perfect freedom.