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Volume 9, Issue 1: The Puritan Eye

A Word to the North

R.L. Dabney

When I claim that the South did thus much for the Africans, I am far from boasting. We ought to have done much more. Instead of pointing to it with self-laudation, it becomes us, with profound humility towards God, to confess our shortcomings towards our servants. He has been pleased, in His sovereign and fearful dispensation, to lay upon us a grievous affliction, and we know He is too just to do this except for our sins. While I am as certain as the sure word of Scripture can make me concerning any principle of social duty, that there was nothing sinful in the relation of master and slave itself, I can easily believe that our failure to fulfill some of the duties of that righteous relation is among the sins for which God's hand now makes us smart. And it does not become those who are under His discipline to boast of their good works. No, truly we have sinned. My argument is that you must do more for the negro than we sinners of the South have done.

I have written wittingly the words; you must do it for them. The South cannot. Your people have effectually disabled us. They have done so by taking away our wealth. The South is almost utterly impoverished, and is able to do little more than to keep destitution from her own doors. But a more conclusive reason is the alienation which the armed and clerical missionaries of the North have inculcated in the breasts of these people, lately so affectionate and contented. The negroes have been diligently taught that their masters were their enemies and oppressors, that their bondage was wicked and destructive of their well-being, and especially that the religious teachings of all Southern ministers were "doctrines of devils," because they would not shout the shibboleth of abolition. The consequence is that the black race will no longer listen to the Southern people, or be guided by them. Take as evidence my own instance, which I cite precisely for the reason that it is not in the least peculiar, but the common experience. Before the advent of your armies, plantation meetings were held weekly in the different quarters of the congregation, on Saturdays, in working time, cheerfully surrendered by the masters for that purpose, which brought religious instruction within two or three miles of every house. They are now all at an end. Six years ago my congregation pulled down the substantial house, built by their fathers only thirty years before, with walls as solid as living rocks, which was entirely adequate to hold the whites, and replaced it by a larger. One prominent reason was that it was not large enough to hold the servants also. They constructed in the new house three hundred commodious sittings exclusively for the blacks. Last Sabbath, under a bright and cheerful sun, those sittings were occupied during public worship by precisely three persons; and at the afternoon service, held in a chapel-of-ease, primarily for the blacks, there was not one present. Thus the North has prevented the South from doing its former work for the good of the African.
But while I assert this, I would bear my emphatic testimony against the falsehood and injustice of the charge that the Southern people wish to cast off and ruin the negro, in a spirit of pique and revenge for his emancipation. That they regard this measure as neither just nor wise, is perfectly true. But they have promised to acquiesce in it as a condition of peace; a promise they intend faithfully to keep. They universally regard slavery as finally at an end. There is nothing more manifest than that the North, amid the flame and heat of all its animosities, knows and feels that we will not be the one to break this new covenant, hard as its conditions are. That the freedom of the late slaves, and the authority which has dictated it, are secured from attack by us. And I boldly testify that we have not voluntarily withdrawn our humane interest from the blacks. We earnestly desire their prosperity. We wish to give them employment and opportunity, and to cooperate in their maintenance as far as possible. We do not cast off the negroes, but it is the negroes who cast us off. The people of the South are this day extending to tens of thousands of black families a generous sympathy in the midst of their own heavy losses and deep poverty, which we challenge the Christian world to surpass in its splendid philanthropy. We still refuse to cast off those families, although, by reason of the incumbrance of old persons, sick, and little children, their present labor is worse than worthless to us. We know we shall receive no future recompense in the labor of the children. We are thus rearing gratis for other men as independent of us in future as we are of them. And this is done (often time in spite of a present requital of insolence, misconception, ingratitude and a petty warfare of thefts and injuries) by Southern gentlemen and ladies, . . . in a multitude of cases, in every neighborhood of every county, so that the numbers of destitute freedmen under which the able hands of your Bureau now faint, are not a tithe of those who are still maintained by the impoverished people of the South. And this is done simply because humanity makes us unwilling to thrust out those for whose happiness we have so long been accustomed to care into the hardships of their new and untried future. And unless you can expect this delicate sentiment to exhibit a permanence which would be almost miraculous under the "wear and tear" of our future poverty, I forewarn you that you must stand prepared for a tenfold increase of your present responsibilities, when these families are committed to you. That tenfold burden you must learn to bear successfully.

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