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Disquietude of the Slaves—The True Cause of the Distemper.


September/October 1860

From The Missouri Democrat, Thursday, October 25, 1860.

Disquietude of the Slaves—The True Cause of the Distemper.

It is not surprising that the political storms, raging on the high plain of the citizen, should in some degree disturb the atmosphere of the lower one occupied by the slave.  When the live thunder leaps from the high places of the land it is heard in the most secluded vale and the deepest ravine.  The recent rumors of negro plots here and there are just what might be expected at this time.  They are the first fruits of that studied misrepresentation of the Republican cause in which the Southern press and Southern orators have recklessly indulged for years, and especially since the opening of this Presidential campaign.  We do not doubt that in some localities the slaves are disquieted.  The following, which is going the rounds of the papers, may be taken as some evidence of the fact:

That the negroes are posted as to what is going on in the country, and have been told that the success of Lincoln will result in license to them, is evidenced in the following extract from a letter from Camargo county, Ky.

On Saturday night week last, some thirteen negroes concluded to make a Lincoln demonstration, by arming themselves with weapons of various kinds, and parading the streets, yelling for Lincoln, and defying any white man to molest them, and threatening death to those who made the attempt.  Writs were obtained, and the next day the entire party were arrested, and severely punished for their impudence and presumption.

We may add, that a large slaveholder in this county informed us some time ago, that his slaves believed that Lincoln, when elected, will set them free.  It is highly probable that slaves in various places have given credence to the absurd notion that their captivity will cease simultaneously with the accession of the Republican party to power.  The tragic commotion among the negroes employed in the Cumberland Iron Works and elsewhere in Tennessee, immediately after the last Presidential election, was attributed, we believe, to the same cause.

We deliberately assert that the Southern assailants of the Republican party are the authors of this grievous delusion, and the overt acts which have which have followed or may follow in its train.  The slave has heard strange noises in the air whenever he had heard the Republican party spoken of by its opponents.  He has heard the white man, his owner, declare at public meetings that the sole object of that party is the abolition of slavery.  It has been dinned into his ears so often; the press and the stump have so rung with it, that he believes it at last.  To confirm him in his error, the incendiary speeches of the Abolitionists are republished in the papers which his master reads, as the authorized expression of Northern sentiment.  No wonder that he believes the prophetic day of universal emancipation is at hand.  Such is the meaning of the declarations he has heard from the lips of those to whom he looks for instruction and information.  If pious, he chants the more popular of the hymn-book melodies with a new emphasis, imagining that he is already transported to Canaan, Happy Land; and if he is otherwise disposed, he probably sets about concocting plots to accelerate the great event.  That disturbances should result from the bitter disappointment he is doomed to suffer, comports with the very nature of things.  The recoil and agony in his case must be as great as that experienced by the God-forsaken Millerite, whom no chariot of fire or cloud bears away from the housetop to the happy realms of light.

The first duty of the slaveholder, at this time is to disabuse his slaves of the gross errors and delusions they have imbibed from the language they have heard him and his oracles use so often.  We do not say this because we are apprehensive that negro insurrections or conspiracies may prove formidable, except, perhaps, to isolated households, but simply through a feeling of humanity.  The slave will be the sole victim of his own errors, but the chief responsibility before the tribunal of conscience will rest on those from whose prejudiced, distorted, untruthful discourse he has contracted these errors.  In slandering the Republican party, the Southern politicians have been mining their own hearthstones and organizing a genuine Carbonari in the negro quarters.  The plot, (if plot there was,) panic, and subsequent terrorism, in Texas—the mobs, lynchings, and massacres which have spread indelible infamy over that State, making it as hateful in the eyes of the civilized world, as Mount Lebanon, the home of the bloody and fanatical Druses—are the direct products of the lies hurled at the Republican party by the champions of slavery.  The black cloud of calumny with which they sought to cover the brightness of the Republican cause has broken in a rain of fire and blood over that State.  This undreamed-of catastrophe should apprise them of the danger which such immoral courses expose them to.  Had they contended with the Republican party in its own avowed character, the slave would pay no more attention to the controversy than of old to the controversy between Whig and Democrat.  He has no sympathy whatever with the restriction of slavery territorially.  The only country which he calls “down the river,” the inhabitants of which he believes are morally and geographically antipodal to those of Canada.

It will therefore be conceded that the simplest and most effectual way for subduing everything like excitement among the negroes and restoring complete quiet, is to represent the Republican party in its true light to the people of the South; to paint it as it is, without concealing a single supposed blemish, instead of drawing a hideous caricature of it in red and black.  Let it have a fair hearing, and be judged by its merits or demerits, instead of being summarily condemned as militant abolitionism.  With their teaching thus reversed, (for reversed it will be if the truth shall be told), the negroes will unlearn their errors as quickly as they learned them.  There will be no more plots or informal contrivances of any kind, whether on the part of blacks or whites; no more of those Sparta-Helotic practices, of which Texas has so recently been the sanguinary theater.  Neither will there be one-tenth as many emigrants to Canada from the border slave States.  The contentment of the servile class, is the surest guarantee their owners can have.  When discontent sets in, no matter from what cause, fugitives are numerous.

For these various reasons, we submit to the organs of pro-slavery opinion the question of the prudence, as well as justice and propriety, of their distinguishing between Republicans and Abolitionists—between Abraham Lincoln and John Brown—between the supporters of the laws, and the filibuster or revolutionist.  They can only inflame the prevailing madness by persisting in their extravagant falsifications.  The stigma of Abolition has lost its terrors in the North—the term having been applied indiscriminately to all opponents of National Democracy; and the same loose application of it henceforth can have no other effect than to confound, to the popular apprehension in the South, things which are radically and essentially distinct.  We do not hesitate to proclaim that they who accuse the Republican party of a purpose, hidden or avowed, to let loose the slaves, are the prime authors of those negrophobia paroxysms in Texas and elsewhere, and of those “stampedes” which are held to constitute the peculiar grievance of the South.