THE historian who, without qualification of his statement, should date the commencement of our late civil war from the attack on Fort Sumter, instead of the first attempt by the slaveholders to render a single property interest paramount in the relations of the country, would prove himself unfit for his task. The battles fought in the press, pulpit, and forum, in ante-war days, were as much agencies in the great conflict as the deadlier ones fought since, on land and sea. Men strove in the former, as in the latter case, for the extension of the slave system on one side, and for its total suppression on the other ; and it is the proud distinction of the early partisans of freedom to be recognized now as the pioneers — the advance-guard — of the armed hosts who at last won the victory for humanity.
This view of the actual beginning of the war makes the facts in the lives of those antislavery men who took the lead in the good fight, and especially of such as died with their armor on, of the utmost value to the historian. We therefore propose to offer a contribution to the record, by tracing the career of one who acted a distinguished part in the struggle, as an antislavery journalist.
Gamaliel Bailey was born in New Jersey,— a State where antislavery men, or, indeed, men of progress in any direction, are so far from being a staple growth, that they can barely be said to be indigenous to her soil. His birthday was December 3, 1807. He was the son of a Methodist preacher noted for his earnestness and devotion to the duties of his calling. His mother was a woman of active brain and sympathetic heart. It was from her, as is not unusual with men of marked traits, that the son derived his distinguishing mental characteristics. His education was such as was obtainable in the private schools of Philadelphia, which, whatever their advantages to others, were not particularly well calculated to prepare young Bailey for the study of the learned profession he subsequently chose; and he .had to seek, without their aid, the classical knowledge necessary to a mastery of the technicalities of medical science. Nevertheless he graduated with credit in the Jefferson Medical College, and at so early an age — for he was then only twenty — that the restriction in its charter deprived him of the usual diploma for a year. The statutes of New Jersey, however, while forbidding him to prescribe for the physical ailments of her citizens, did not pronounce him too young to undertake the mental training of her children, and he eagerly availed himself of the pedagogue’s privilege of bending the twigs of mind amid the pine forests of his native State. By the time he was entitled to his diploma, he was satisfied that the overdraught upon his vitality had been so great, during his college years, as utterly to unfit him for the field of action on which, but a twelvemonth before, he had been so desirous to enter. A sea voyage was chosen as the best means of resting his brain while strengthening his body and preparing it for the heavy demands which his profession would naturally make.
Having, with the scanty income from his year's teaching, equipped himself for his voyage, he obeyed at once the dictates of necessity and of judgment, and shipped on a vessel bound for China. Instead of a successful physician winning golden opinions from all, Dr. Bailey was now a common sailor before the mast, receiving from his superiors oaths or orders as the case might be. The ship’s destination was Canton, and its arrival in port was attended by such an unusual amount of sickness among the crew, that it became necessary to assign young Bailey the office of surgeon. This he filled with promptness and skill, and when the vessel set sail for Philadelphia, the sailor was again found at his post, performing his duties as acceptably as could have been expected from a greenhorn on his first cruise. Once more on his native shore, and in some degree reinvigorated by travel, he opened his office for the practice of medicine. At the end of three months he found himself out of patients, and in a situation far from enjoyable to one of his active temperament.
But, luckily for Dr. Bailey, whatever it may have been for the church of his fathers, just at this time the so-called “Radicals” had begun their reform movement against Methodist Episcopacy, which resulted in the secession of a number of the clergy and laity, principally in the Middle States, and the organization of the Methodist Protestants. These “ Radicals ” had their head-quarters at Baltimore. There they started an organ under the title of “The Methodist Protestant,” and to the editorship of this journal Dr. Bailey was called. His youthful inexperience as a writer was not the only remarkable feature of this engagement ; for he had not even the qualification of being at that time a professor of religion. His connection with “ The Methodist Protestant ” was a brief one ; but it was terminated by lack of sufficient funds to sustain a regular editor, and not by lack of ability in the editor.
Dr. Bailey was again adrift, and we next find him concerned in “ Kelley’s Expedition to Oregon.” This had been projected at St. Louis, which was to be its starting-point; and thither hastened our adventurous young physician — to learn that the expedition, having had little more to rest upon than that baseless fabric so often supplied by printers’ ink, was an utter failure. Finding himself without funds to pay for the costly means of conveyance then used in the West, he made his way back as far as Cincinnati on foot. Soon after his arrival there the cholera broke out. This presented an aspect of affairs rather inviting to a courageous spirit. He gladly embraced the opening for practice ; and, happening to be known to some of the faculty of the place, he was recommended for the appointment of Physician to the Cholera Hospital. Thus he was soon introduced to the general confidence of the profession and the public, and seemed to be on the highway to fame. Dr. Eberlie, a standard medical authority at that day, as he still is among many practitioners of the old school in the West, was then preparing his work on the Diseases of Children, and he availed himself of Dr. Bailey’s aid. This opened an unexpected field to the latter for the exercise of his ability as a writer ; and the work in question contains abundant evidence that he would have succeeded in the line of medical authorship. But circumstances proved unfavorable to his connection with Dr. Eberlie, and he again devoted himself to the practice of his profession, in which he continued for a time with great success.
At this date, however, an event of great interest occurred in connection with the agitation of the slavery question,— an event exercising a most decided influence on the career of Dr. Bailey, — in fact, changing entirely the current of his eventful life. We allude to the discussions of slavery at Lane Seminary, and the memorable expulsion of a number of the students for their persistence in promulging antislavery doctrines. Dr. Bailey was then engaged at the Seminary in the delivery of a course of lectures on Physiology. He became interested in the pending discussion, and espoused the proslavery side. For this his mind had probably been unconsciously prepared by the current of thought in Cincinnati, then under the mercantile control of her proslavery customers from Kentucky and other Southern States. But erelong he appeared as a convert to the antislavery side of the discussion. This he himself was wont to attribute, in great part, to the light which an honest comparison of views threw upon the subject; but it is evident that his conversion was somewhat accelerated by the expulsion of his antislavery antagonists in debate. Following the lead of these new sympathies, he became (in 1835) editorially associated with that great pioneer advocate of freedom, James G. Birney, whose venerated name has been so honorably connected with the recent triumph of the Union arms, through the courage of three of his sons. The paper was ‘‘The Cincinnati Philanthropist,” so well remembered by the earlier espousers of antislavery truth. The association continued about a year. Dr. Bailey then became sole editor of the Philanthropist, and soon after sole proprietor. It was from the pages of this journal that a series of antislavery tracts were reprinted, which had not a little to do in giving fresh impulse to the discussions of that day. They were entitled “ Facts for the People.”
The relation of Dr. Bailey to a journal which was regarded by the slaveowners as the organ of their worst enemies made him a marked man, and called him to endure severe and unexpected ordeals. In 1836, his opponents incited against him the memorable mob, whose first act was the secret destruction of his press at midnight. Soon after the riot raged openly, and not only destroyed the remaining contents of his printing-office, but the building itself. Mr. Birney, being the older and more conspicuous of the offenders, was of course more emphatically the object of the mob’s wrath than the junior associate. But the latter shared with him the personal perils of the day, while bearing the brunt of the pecuniary losses. As is usual in such outbreaks, after three days of fury, the lawless spirit of the people subsided. There was a repetition of violence in 1840, however, and during another three days’ reign of terror two more presses were destroyed. But such was the indomitable energy of the man in whose person and property the constitutional liberty of the press was thus assailed, that in three weeks the Philanthropist was again before the public, sturdily defending the truth it was established to proclaim ; and this, be it remembered, when the press-work of even weekly journals was not let out, in Cincinnati, as jobs for “lightning presses,” but was done in the proprietors’ own offices, on presses to be obtained only from distant manufactories.
It was in this year that the Liberty party, of which Dr. Bailey was a prominent leader, entered for the first time into the Presidential contest, with James G. Birney as its candidate.
Not yet satiated, the spirit of mob violence manifested itself a third time in 1843 ; but it was suppressed by the interference of the military power, and its demonstration was followed by a growth of liberal sentiment altogether unlooked for. Availing himself of this favorable change, Dr. Bailey started a daily paper to which the name of “The Herald” was given.
The unprecedented ordeal through which Dr. Bailey had passed, involving not only his family, but Mr. Birney, Mr. Clawson, and other friends of his enterprise, was, after all, but needful training for the subsequent work allotted to the reformer. He continued the publication of the Daily Herald, and the Philanthropist also, but under the name of “ The Weekly Herald and Philanthropist,” until 1847. With a growing family and a meagre income, the intervening years marked a season of self-denial to himself and his excellent wife such as few, even among reformers, have been called to pass through. And yet through all his poverty his cheerfulness was unfaltering, and inspired all who came in contact with him. There was a better day before him,— better in a pecuniary as well as a political sense. He had now fairly won a reputation throughout the country for courage and ability as an antislavery journalist. A project for establishing an antislavery organ at the seat of the national government had been successfully carried out by the Executive Committee of the American and Foreign Antislavery Society, under the lead of that now venerable and esteemed pioneer of freedom, Lewis Tappan. The editorial charge of it was tendered, with great propriety, to Dr. Bailey, and was accepted. He entered upon his duties as editor in chief of “The National Era” in January, 1847, with the Reverend Amos A. Phelps, now deceased, and John G. Whittier, as corresponding editors, and L. P. Noble as publishing agent. “The Daily Herald” and “The Weekly Herald and Philanthropist” were transferred to Messrs. Sperry and Matthews, with Stanley Matthews as editor; but the political ambition of the latter prevented his continuing the paper in the steadfast antislavery tone of his predecessor, and it soon ceased to appear.1
The establishment of the National Era, while it furnished a most appropriate field for Dr. Bailey’s talents, also marked an era in the antislavery history of the country. At the centres of all governments there is found a fulcrum whose value politicians have long since demonstrated by its use, — too frequently for the most unworthy purposes. There had always been organs for conservatism at Washington, but none for progress. There were numbers of bold thinkers throughout the country, who had found, here and there, a representative of their ideas in the government. But they had no newspaper to keep watch and ward over him, or to correctly report his acts to his constituents,—no vehicle through which they could bring their thoughts to bear upon him or others. This was furnished by the National Era. But this was not the only direction in which it proved useful. It enabled the friends of emancipation everywhere to communicate freely with those against whose gigantic system of wrong they felt it their duty to wage war, where such were found willing to read their antagonists’ arguments, instead of taking them as perverted by proslavery journals.
The first effect of the Era upon the local antislavery journals which it found in existence was, unquestionably, to excite not a little apprehension and jealousy among their conductors. Naturally they felt that the national reputation of Dr. Bailey and his assistants, aided by a central position, was calculated to detract from their own importance in the estimation of their patrons. But, besides this, there was the actual fact of the Era’s large supply of original and high-toned literary matter, added to the direct and reliable Congressional news it was expected to furnish, which stared them threateningly in the face. And we well remember now what pain these petty jealousies gave to the sensitive nature of our departed friend. But these gradually subsided, until there was hardly an antislavery editor of average discernment who did not come to see that a national organ like the Era, by legitimating discussion and keeping up the heat and blaze of a vigorous agitation, at the nation’s very centre, against that nation’s own giant crime, would prove a benefit, in the end, to all colaborers worthy of the name. And the increase of antislavery journals, as well as of vigor in conducting them, in the period subsequent to 1847, proved that this was the correct view.
Although now so favorably placed for contest with his great foe, Dr. Bailey was here subjected to a renewal of the assaults which had become painfully familiar in the West. His paper had not been in existence more than fifteen months when an event occurred which, although he had in it no agency whatever, brought down upon his devoted head a fourth discharge of the vials of popular wrath. Some seventy or eighty slaves attempted to escape from Washington in the steamer Pearl, and instantly the charge of complicity was laid at his door. His office and dwelling were surrounded by a furious crowd, including a large proportion of office-holding F. F. V.'s, and some “gentlemen of property and standing,” These gentlemen threatened the entire destruction of the press and type of the Era, while the editor’s personal safety, with that of his family, was again put in peril for the space of three terrific days. The Federal metropolis had never known such days since the torch applied by a foreign foe had wrapped the first Capitol in flames. The calm self-possession of Dr. Bailey, when he made his appearance unarmed before the swaying mob, and addressed them from the steps of his dwelling, — as described by the late Dr. Houston in a letter to the New York Tribune, from notes taken while he was concealed in the house, — was such that, while disarming the leaders with the simple majesty of the truth, it did not fail to produce a reaction even in the most exasperated members of the mob.
It would indeed be an interesting task to trace the public influence of this last demonstration, for it offered phases of interest to both parties. It is sufficient to say, that the Era’s unmolested existence ever after was simply due to the instincts of self-preservation in the community. The issue was practically presented to the owners of real estate in the District, whether freedom of debate on all topics of public concern should be tolerated there, or the capital be removed to some Western centre. The bare possibility of this event was more than the slaveholding land-owners could face, and produced the desired effect. The continuance of the paper once acquiesced in, the tact of its editor, aided by that remarkable suavity of manners which made him a favorite in the private circles of Washington, was sufficient to forever forbid the probability of a second mob. And thenceforward the Era increased in influence as well as circulation. The latter, indeed, soon reached a figure which entitled it to a share of government patronage, while the former commanded the respect even of the enemies of the cause it defended.
But this is not all that is to be said of the Era. To that paper belongs the honor of introducing to the world the story of “ Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Although reference has frequently been made to the origin of this wonderful fiction, the facts of its inception and growth have never been given to the public. These are so curious, that we are happy to be able to present what politicians would call the ‘‘secret history” of this book. The account was furnished to a friend by Dr. Bailey himself, when about to embark for Europe, on his first voyage for health, in 1853 ; the manuscript, now used for the first time, was hurriedly penned, without expectation of its appearance in print, and therefore has all the dashing freedom which might be looked for in a communication from one friend to another. We give it verbatim, that it may serve for a souvenir, as well as a contribution to the literary history of the time.
“NEW YORK, May 27, 1853.
“In the beginning of the year 1851, as my custom has been, I sent remittances to various writers whom I wished to furnish contributions to the Era, during that volume. Among these was Mrs. Stowe. I sent her one hundred dollars, saying to her that for that sum she might write as much as she pleased, what she pleased, and when she pleased. I did not dream that she would attempt a novel, for she had never written one. Some time in the summer she wrote me that she was going to write me a story about ‘ How a Man became a Thing.’ It would occupy a few numbers of the Era, in chapters. She did not suppose or dream that it would expand to a novel, nor did I. She changed the title to‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin,’ and commenced it in August. I read two or three of the first chapters, to see that everything was going on right, and read no more then. She proceeded, — the story grew, — it seemed to have no end,— everybody talked of it. I thought the mails were never so irregular, for none of my subscribers was willing to lose a single number of the Era while the story was going on. Mrs. Bailey attracted my attention by her special devotion to it, and Mr. Chase always read it before anything else. Of the hundreds of letters received weekly, renewing subscriptions or sending new ones, there was scarcely one that did not contain some cordial reference to Uncle Tom. I wrote to Mrs. Stowe, and told her that, although such a story had not been contracted for, and I had, in my programme, limited my remittance to her to one hundred dollars, yet, as the thing had grown beyond all our calculations, I felt bound to make her another remittance. So I sent her two hundred dollars more. The story was closed early in the spring of 1852. I had not yet read it; but I wrote to Mrs. Stowe that, as I had not contemplated so large an outlay in my plans for the volume, as the paper had not received so much pecuniary benefit from its publication as it would have done could my readers have foreseen what it was to be, and as my large circulation had served as a tremendous advertisement for the work, which was now about to be published separately, and of which she held the copyright alone, I supposed that I ought not to pay for it so much as if these circumstances had not existed. But I simply stated the case to her, — submitted everything to her judgment, — and would pay her additional just exactly what she should determine was right. She named one hundred dollars more ; this I immediately remitted. And thus terminated my relations with ‘Uncle Tom's Cabin,’ but not with its author, who is still engaged as a regular contributor to the Era. Dr. Snodgrass is hereby commended to Mr. Clephane [Dr. Bailey’s clerk], who is authorized to hand him any letters between Mrs. Stowe and myself that may aid him in his undertaking.”
It may be proper to say that the “undertaking” referred to contemplated a biographical sketch, not of Dr. Bailey, but of his distinguished contributor,— a project the execution of which circumstances did not favor, and which was therefore abandoned.
“ Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” and the remarkable introduction of its author to fame and pecuniary fortune, were not the only results of a similar character referable to the Era. Mrs. Southworth also made her literary début in the same journal. Previous to her connection with the Era, ‘she had only published some short sketches in the Baltimore Saturday Visiter, over her initial “ E,” or “ Emma” at most; and even these signatures gave her much trouble, as her letters to the editor plainly indicated, so fearful was she of the recognition and unfavorable criticism of her friends. She had a painful lack of confidence in her own ability. Just before the transfer of the subscription list of the Visiter to the Era, she had sent in a story. To this, against her earnest protest, the editor had affixed her entire name, and the story, prepared for the Visiter, was transferred with its list to the Era, and was there published, in spite of the deprecations of Mrs. Southworth. It served the purpose intended. The attention of Dr. Bailey was called to one until then unknown to him, although residing in the same city, and he at once gave her a paying engagement in his journal. This brought her under new influences, which resulted in her conversion to the principles of the antislavery reform, — a conversion whose fruits have since been shown in her deeds as well as her writings. And thus commenced the literary career of another successful author, who, but for the existence of the Era, would probably have been left to struggle on in the adversity from which her pen has so creditably set her free.
Unduly encouraged by the success of his weekly journal. Dr. Bailey started a daily edition of the Era. Having committed himself to continue it for a year without regard to pecuniary results, he did so, and here the publication ceased. The experiment cost him heavily. This, however, he anticipated, though he of course also anticipated ultimate profit, notwithstanding the warning which he had received from the equally unlucky experiment of the Cincinnati Daily Herald. In a letter to the writer of this, dated December 18, 1853, he said: “I start the Daily with the full expectation of sinking five thousand dollars on it. Of course I can afford no extra expenses, but must do nearly all the work on it myself,”—a statement which shows at once the hopefulness and the energy of our friend’s disposition.
Dr. Bailey died at sea, while on his way to Europe, on the fifth day of June, 1859. It was the second voyage thither which he had undertaken within a few years, for the benefit of his broken health. His body was brought home and interred at Washington. With its editor died the National Era; for it was discontinued soon after his decease.
Mr. Raymond of the New York Daily Times, who was a fellow-passenger with Dr. Bailey, wrote an account of his last hours for his paper, which has by no means lost its melancholy interest. “ I gathered from his conversation,” says Mr. Raymond, “ that he did not consider himself to be very ill, at least, that his lungs were not affected, but that a long-continued dyspepsia, and the nervous excitement which his labors had induced, had combined to bring about the weakness under which he suffered. For the first two or three days he was upon deck for the greater part of the time. The weather was fresh, though not unpleasantly cold, and the sea not rough enough to occasion any considerable discomfort. The motion, however, affected him disagreeably. He slept badly, had no appetite, and could relish nothing but a little fruit now and then. His eldest son was with him, and attended upon him with all a fond son’s solicitude. Except myself, I do not think he had another acquaintance on board. He was cheerful and social, and talked with interest of everything connected with public affairs at home and abroad. He suffered some inconvenience from the fact that his room was below, and that he could only reach it by descending two flights of stairs. We occasionally made a couch of cushions for him upon deck, when he became fatigued ; but this made him too conspicuous for his taste, and he seemed uneasily fearful of attracting attention to himself as an invalid. After Tuesday the sea became remarkably smooth, and so continued to the end of the voyage. But it brought him no relief; his strength failed with failing appetite ; and on Thursday, from staying too long on deck, he took cold, which confined him to his room next day. Otherwise he seemed about as usual through that day and Saturday, and on Sunday morning seemed even better, saying that he had slept unusually well, and felt strengthened and refreshed. He took some slight nourishment, and attempted to get up from his berth without assistance ; the effort was too much for him, however, and his son, who had left his room at his request, but stood at the door, saw him fall as he attempted to stand. He at once went in, raised him, and laid him upon the couch. Seeing that he was greatly distressed in breathing, he went immediately for Dr. Smith, the surgeon of the ship. I met him on deck, and, hearing of his father’s condition, went at once to his room. I found him wholly unconscious, breathing with difficulty, but perfectly quiet, and seem' ingly asleep. Drs. Beale and Dubois were present, and endeavored to give him a stimulant, but he was unable to swallow, and it was evident that he was dying. He continued in this state for about half an hour ; his breathing became slower and slower, until finally it ceased altogether, and that was all ! Not a movement of a muscle, not a spasm or a tremor of any kind, betrayed the moment when his spirit took its departure. An infant, wearied with play on a summer’s eve, could not have fallen asleep more gently.”
As mourners over him who thus passed away in the very prime of manhood, there were left a wife, whose maiden name was Maria L. Shands, and who was the daughter of a Methodist preacher and planter of Sussex County, Virginia, and six children, three sons and three daughters. In Mrs. Bailey her husband had found a woman of rare intelligence as well as courage, whose companionship proved most sustaining and consoling amid the trials of his eventful life. She and five of their children still live to revere his memory. Two of the survivors are sons; and it is pleasant to add that one of these has done honor to his parentage, as well as to himself, by continuing what is virtually the same good fight, as a commander of colored troops, under General William Birney, the son of the very James G. Birney who was Dr. Bailey’s editorial associate in Cincinnati.
Subjected as Dr. Bailey was so frequently to the fury of mobs, and the pressure of social opposition and pecuniary want, he led the hosts of Antislavery Reform into the very stronghold of the enemy’s country ; and to say that he maintained his position with integrity and success is but to pronounce the common praise of his contemporaries and colaborers. As a writer he was clear and logical to an uncommon degree, carrying certain conviction to the mind, wherever it was at all open to the truth ; and with the rare habit of stating fairly the position of his opponent, he never failed of winning his respect and his confidence. The death of such a man was well calculated to fill the friends of progress throughout the world with unfeigned regret. Especially must they lament that he departed too soon to witness the triumph of liberty, for which it had so long been his pleasure “ to labor and to wait.”
We learn with much satisfaction, that a “ Life of Dr. Bailey ” is in course of preparation, with the sanction ot Mrs. Bailey, which, while affording much valuable information concerning the antislavery events of the past, will also offer space, wanting here, to do full justice to the memory of this estimable man.
- These facts are given because of an erroneous statement which crept into the brief though kind biographical notice of Dr. Bailey in “ The New American Cyclopaedia,” to the effect that the subscription list of the Philanthropist was transferred with its editor to the National Era. It was the list of “ The Saturday Visiter,” published for many years, as an antislavery journal, at Baltimore, which was transferred to the Era, together with the services of its editor and proprietor (J, E. Snodgrass) as special correspondent and publishing agent at that important point. This arrangement admirably served to secure to the Era a circulation in Southern communities where the Visiter had already found its way, and where it would otherwise have been difficult to introduce a paper which was notoriously the central organ of Abolitionism.↩