Date: Tue, Oct 12, 2010
Subject: A different view of slavery
Dear Mr. Combs,
CC: H.K. Edgerton
Perhaps this will give you a more accurate perspective of slavery, for it comes from the son of one of its most vehement opponents.
Dr. Charles E. Stowe’s View of Slavery in 1911
Dr. Charles E. Stowe, son of Harriet Beecher Stowe, spoke at Fisk University in Nashville in 1911. Though he stated that the Northern and Southern States were equally responsible for African slavery in the United Sttates, he was aware that slavery was a British colonial labor system, a system both the North and the South inherited after secession and independence from England. He was also aware that previous to Massachusetts tinkerer Whitney’s invention, cotton production on a large scale was laborious and unprofitable and that New England mills profited greatly from this invention, slave-produced cotton, and a slave trade their New England brethren would continue right up until the secession of the Deep South states.
“This much must be conceded, that the Northern States were just as responsible for the existence of slavery as were the Southern States…and it grew stronger in the Southern States after the invention of Eli Whitney’s cotton gin, simply because it was enormously profitable, and property and slaves correspondingly valuable.
“Sometimes the question is asked, ‘Were not the slaves better off under slavery than they are now under freedom?’ I think a candid answer to that question demands us to say that some were better off under slavery than they are under freedom. The abolition of slavery acted on the colored race like a wedge, forcing some down and some up. Those who were fit for freedom, prepared to embrace and make the most of the opportunities offered them as free men, rose. But some were not fit for freedom.
“Now, that is no reflection upon the colored race. We have a very large proportion of the white race that are not fit for freedom. We have innumerable numbers of men and women that we are compelled to confine in institutions and keep as wards of the State, or they destroy themselves and everybody else.
“If slavery was an utterly evil institution, with no alleviating features, how are we to account for the fact that when the Confederate soldiers were at the front fighting, as they thought, for their independence, the Negroes on the plantations took care of the women and children and old people, and nothing like an act of violence was ever known among them?
“I have seen at Charleston, S.C., a monument erected by former slaveholders and their descendants in grateful acknowledgment of the fidelity of those slaves who remained upon the plantations and cared for their women and children while they were at the front, and I understand that the Confederate veterans are also to erect another such monument. Certainly such kindly feeling between master and slave shows that there must have been something good in the institution of slavery. So we should not look back at the institution of slavery as a reign of unalleviated wickedness and horror, but remember that it had within itself, in spite of its many abuses and intolerable horrors, much that was good.”
A letter from President Taft was also read by Dr. Stowe:
The White House, Washington, D.C.
“I am not one of those who believe that it is well to educate that mass of Negroes with academic or university education. On the contrary, I am firmly convinced that the hope of the Negro is in his industrial education throughout the South and in teaching him to be a better farmer, a better carpenter, a better machinist, and a better blacksmith than he is now, and to make more blacksmiths and more good farmers than there now are among the Negroes.”
(“Honest Confession Good for the Country,” Son of Harriet Beecher Stowe Makes Address at Fisk University, Nashville. Confederate Veteran, July, 1911, pp. 326-327)