By Walker, Wise, & Co., Ex-Maire and Municipal Councillor of Paris. Translated by MARY L. BOOTH, Translator of Count De Gasparin’s Works on America, etc. Boston:
IT is doubtless a little unfashionable to question the all-sufficiency of statistics to the salvation of men or nations. Nevertheless we believe that their power is of a secondary and derivative character. The confidence which first leads brave souls to put forth their energies against a giant evil comes through deductive, not inductive, inquiry. The men and women who have efficiently devoted themselves to awaken the American people to the element of guilt and peril in their national life have seldom been exhaustively acquainted with the facts of slavery or those of emancipation. Few of them were political economists, or had much concern with scientific relations. They were persons of emotional organization, and of a delicate moral susceptibility. It was sufficient for them to know that one God reigned, and that whatever He had caused to be a true political economy must accord with those Christian ethics which command acknowledgment from the human soul. They wanted no catalogue of abuses to convince them that an institution which began by denying a man all right in his own person was not and could not come to good. And this fine impressibility of nature, which needs no statistics, when it is combined with genius,—if we may be pardoned an Hibernicism which almost writes itself, — may be said to create its own statistics. Shakspeare needed not to dog murderers, note-book in hand, in order to give in Macbeth a comprehensive summary of their pitiable estate. It may, indeed, be necessary for physicians to study minutely many special cases of insanity in order to build up by induction the grand generalization of Lear ; but he who gave it grasped it entire in an ideal world, and left to less happy natures the task of imitating its august proportions by patiently piling together a thousand facts. The abolition of slavery must be demanded by the moral instinct of a people before their understanding may be satisfied of its practical fitness and material success. The evidences in favor of emancipation are useful after the same manner as the evidences of Christianity : the man whose heart cannot be stirred by the tender appeal of the Gospel shall not he persuaded by the exegetical charming of the most orthodox expositor.
But now that circumstances have caused loyal American citizens to think upon slavery, and to mark with a quickened moral perception its enormous usurpations, there could be no publication more timely than this volume by M. Cochin. To be sure, all illustration of the results of this legalized injustice, derived from a past experience, must be tame to those who stand face to face with the gigantic conspiracy in which it has concentrated its venom, and from which it must stagger to its doom. The familiar proverb which declares that the gods make mad those whom they would destroy has a significance not always considered. Tor when a man loses his intellectual equilibrium, a baseness of character which never broke through the crust of conventionality may be suddenly revealed; and when a wicked system goes mad, such depths of perfidy are disclosed as few imagined to exist. During the last two years, while our Southern sky has been aglow with the red light of the slave-masters’ insurrection, few of us could probe and pry about among details of lesser villanies than those pertinent to the day. And so it is fortunate that M. Cochin now comes to address a people instinctively grasping at the principle which may give them peace, and to offer them his calm and thorough investigation of the material basis whereon that principle may surely rest.
“ L'Abolition de l’Esclavage,” of which the first volume is translated under the title at the head of this notice, was published in 1861. It is a diligent study of official and other testimony bearing upon slavery and emancipation. M. Cochin had access to the unpublished records of every ministry in Europe, and gives his evidence with scientific precision. He has faithfully detailed the effects of liberating the slaves in the colonies of France and England, as well as in those of Denmark, Sweden, and Holland. By an admirable clearness of arrangement, and a certain netteté of statement, the reader retains an impression of the experience in slavery and its abolition which each colony represents. That no disturbance should follow emancipation, we apprehend that no one, who believes in the moral government of the world, can seriously expect. Ceasing to persist in sin frees neither man nor nation from the penalty it entails. But the distressing consequences of any social upheaval make a far greater impression upon the common mind than the familiar evils of the condition from which the community emerges. The amount of suffering which must temporarily follow an act of justice long delayed is always over-estimated. Many half-measures for the public safety, many blunders easy to be avoided, produce the derangement of affairs which the enemies of human freedom are never tired of proclaiming. It is the merit of M. Cochin to separate that penalty of wrong which it is impossible to extinguish from the disastrous results of causes peculiar to the politics of a given nation, or to the private character of its officers. He certainly shows that production and commerce have not been annihilated by the abolition of slavery, while the moral condition of both races has been manifestly improved. Recognizing the immutable laws which are potent in the life of nations, M. Cochin touches upon the remote antecedents of slavery as well as the immediate antecedents of emancipation. His results are divided into groups, material, economical, and moral; thus the reader may easily systematize the information of the book. There are practical lessons in relation to the great deed to which our nation has been called that may well be laid to heart. The insurrection of San Domingo preceded emancipation, and was due to the absurd law of the Constituent Assembly which gave the same privileges to freemen of every color and every degree of education and capacity. While we recognize the negro as a man, let us remember that the time for recognizing him as a citizen is not yet. We must also mark the importance of paying with promptness the indemnity to the master, in order that the greater part of it may pass in the form of wages into the hands of the servant. Forewarned of mistakes in the methods of emancipation, which other nations deplore, we encounter the question with many important aids to its solution.
M. Cochin, though not a Protestant like Count de Gasparin, writes in a similar spirit of fervent Christian belief. In the second volume of his work, which we trust will soon appear in America, the relation of Christianity to slavery is powerfully discussed. The Catholic Church is shown to oppose this crime against humanity, and the Pope, as if to indorse the conclusion, has conferred an order of knighthood upon the author since the publication of his book. It is worth while to note that the most logical and effective assailants of slavery that these last years have produced have been devout Catholics,— Augustin Cochin in France, and Orestes A. Brownson in America. And while we think that it will require a goodly amount of special pleading to clear either the Catholic Church or most Protestant sects from former complicity with this iniquity, we heartily rejoice that those liberal men who intelligently encourage and direct the noblest instinct of the time are the exclusive possession of no form of religious belief. From every ritual of worship, from every variety of speculative creed, earnest minds have reached the same practical ground of labor for the freedom of man. Such minds realize that Christianity can approximate its exact application only as the machinery of human society is rightly comprehended. The Gospel, acting through the church, the meeting-house, the lecture-room, and the press, is demanding the redemption of master and slave from the mutual curse of their relation. Every affliction and struggle of this civil war may be sanctified, not only to the moral improvement, but also to the material prosperity of our land. Great events are required to inspire a people with great ideas. Sicut patribus sit Deus nobis is the motto of the city whence the “Atlantic” goes forth to its readers. Let all who adopt this aspiration remember for what they ask. God was with our fathers, and sent them hardship, peril, defeat, that, battling painfully therewith, they might become great and fruitful men. Not otherwise can He be with us. From the misery of our civil strife we may educe a future happiness, as well as a present blessedness. The fierce excitement of physical action has been contagious to the heart and intellect of the time. Realities have presented themselves which can be met only by ideas. In the seeming distant years of our old prosperity, a few men and women sought to abolish slavery because it oppressed the inferior race ; today, the nation deals with it because it has rendered the superior race hopelessly violent and corrupt. Of course, there will always be a class of doubting Thomases ready to deny the presence of any divine leadership that may not at once be touched and weighed and measured. To the prototype of these men such tangible evidence as his feeble faith could accept was not withheld. And those among us who are in like condition may read M. Cochin’s book, and be convinced that a system which to the common sense of the Christian world seems morally wrong is neither politically expedient nor materially necessary.