Confederate Veteran, Vol. 19 No. 5, May 1911, pp. 229-30.
The Confederate Veteran was the official publication of the United Confederate Veterans, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the Confederated Southern Memorial Association and the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
CIVILIZATION OF NEGROES IN THE SOUTH.
L. R. BURRESS, BROWNSVILLE, TEX., IN AN OPEN LETTER TO REV. N.
DWIGHT HILLIS, D.D., PASTOR PLYMOUTH CHURCH, BROOKLYN.
I have read with interest your sermons on “The Heroic Age of American History.” As they are devoted to a question of the past, it should be without bias or sectional prejudice.
Slavery is now a part of American history which began in twelve of the American colonies, which subsequently formed the American Union of States. As a recognized institution of the government it was carried into the Southern States as they were admitted to the Union. The importation of Africans as slaves was prohibited by law in 1808. The African, coming from a barbarous state and from a tropical climate, could not meet the demands for skilled labor in the factories of the Northern States; neither could he endure the severe cold of the Northern winter. For these reasons it was both merciful and “business” to sell him to the Southern planter, where the climate was more favorable and skilled labor not so important. In the South the climate, civilization, and other influences ameliorated the African’s condition, and that of almost the entire race of slaves, which numbered into the millions before their emancipation. It should be noted that their evangelization was the most fruitful missionary work of any modern Christian endeavor. The thoughtful and considerate negro of to-day realizes his indebtedness to the institution of African slavery for advantages which he would not have received had he remained in his semibarbarism waiting in his native jungles for the delayed missionary.
Permit me to refer to a native African owned as a slave by my father. He left Africa when a youth, and brought a knowledge of affairs which existed in his native country. He would take me on his knee and recite for my entertainment the customs of his people in their native land. He became a very devout and consecrated Christian, and was withal a man of more than average intelligence for one of his race. I often heard him express thanks to his Heavenly Father for the institution of African slavery, for on account of it he had learned of the true God and of his Son Jesus Christ. “But for it I would have been left in the darkness of superstition and heathenism.”
Philanthropy and beneficence characterized the great majority of Southern slave owners. Besides, there was too much money invested in a slave to allow abuse that disabled him from labor. His health and strength were looked after as a matter of profit. Likewise were food, raiment, and shelter provided.
As to the spiritual consideration, it was common for master and servant to worship together in one audience. On many plantations the servants were assembled for religious service, and often on Sunday morning a Sunday school was held for their special instruction. It was through these that the colored “parson” got his knowledge of the Bible, of which they were wont to say: “I b’lieves it from kivver to kivver, and follows my Lawd down into de ribber.”
Indeed, the Christian master was interested in the physical and spiritual welfare of his slaves, as was the Roman centurion who besought Jesus to heal his servant. Concerning the faith of this Roman slave owner the Saviour exclaimed: “I have not found so great faith; no, not in Israel.” Could not such faith have been exercised by an American slave owner? That unkindness, and by some masters cruelty, was inflicted none deny; but such was the exception and not the rule. In every clime and in every institution may be found
“One whose brute feeling ne’er aspires
Beyond his own mere brute desires.”
Commendation is due the officers of Massachusetts and Boston for returning the fugitive slave, Anthony Burns, referred to by you. By so doing they honored the Constitution, the compact between the States. The decision in the Dred Scott case verified the return as constitutional. Every State and Federal officer had taken oath to obey, to support, and to defend the Constitutions of their respective States and of the United States. The same oath-taken obligation rested on every white man by virtue of his citizenship. Another notable precedent for returning a fugitive slave is given by Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, who recognized both law and expediency in returning the fugitive slave, Onesimus, to his master, Philemon, who himself was a Christian and a slave owner. Paul was a great example as a Christian patriot.
Let the historian justly consider the men and causes that brought on the Civil War. The Southern States entered the Union as slave States, so cannot be charged as having held slaves without the consent of the Union. This union was entered into by the States “for better for worse,” as the combined strength was needed to oppose the mother country. The South sought to maintain the Constitution and the rights of the States to police State rights. The North interfered with State affairs which existed in the formation of the Union. The South contended for the Constitution, the North for the Union. Slavery being the issue, malignancy was freely indulged in by both sides. It was not American to endure passively. Then followed Southern secession against Northern rebellion. The Constitution was lost; the Union was saved. Millions of lives were directly and indirectly sacrificed, billions of dollars expended, and the results are not yet recorded. The war was not justifiable. If the nation had heeded the teachings of Southern statesmen prior to the sixties, without war slavery would eventually have been abolished, the emancipated slaves colonized, and the Union preserved without the shedding of blood. The, leaven of emancipation had found place in Southern minds, and would have quietly leavened the whole lump, had not abnormal ferment been injected, which precipitated resentment. Not to resent would be to consent that contumelies were deserving. The South was beaten but not broken. If the South had foreseen defeat, she might have exclaimed as did Demosthenes. “I say, if the event had been manifest to the whole world beforehand, not even then ought Athens to have forsaken this course, if Athens had any regard for her glory or for her past or for the ages to come.”
“The past is irrevocable; the future is improvable.” This was the home cry and hope of the returned Southern soldiers. New lines must be run. With no precedent or experience as a compass to guide, never did people survey more wisely the unexplored regions of both social and civil embarrassments than the people of the South. The scars of war remained, and the sore places, often bruised, would bleed afresh; but in their zeal they looked not to present comfort, but to future welfare. Thus they showed that
“Noble souls, through dust and heat,
Rise from disaster and defeat,
The South gave to history heroes that class with the heroic of any age. The world sings their praises and destiny takes care of their honor. The South has sworn allegiance to the new Union and to the amended Constitution, and will prove as loyal as in the days of Washington, Jackson, and Taylor, and as heroic as when led by Lee. The South has no apologies to offer for her course, however much she deplores any cruelty or injustice by either section. Let the reunited nation say, Peace to the past, coöperation for the present, “one and inseparable now and forever.”
In the funeral oration of the great Webster in memory of Mr. Calhoun, believing that the same mutual confidence and respect exist in the minds of both Northern and Southern men, he said: “He [Calhoun] had the indispensable basis of all high character: an unspotted integrity and unimpeachable honor. There was nothing groveling or low or meanly selfish that came near the head or heart of Mr. Calhoun. Whether his political opinions were right or wrong, they will descend to posterity under the sanction of a great name. He is now a historical character. We shall indulge in it as a grateful recollection that we have lived in his age; that we have been his contemporaries; that we have seen him, heard him, known him. We shall delight to speak of him to those who are rising up to fill our places. And when, one after another, we shall go to our graves, we shall carry with us a deep sense of his honor and integrity, the purity of his private life and exalted patriotism.”
It is a deplorable fact that after more than forty years of civil liberty by the Africans in America so many of them are untrustworthy. In former days the planter without fear intrusted his wife and daughters to “Uncle Tom” and his sable sons. “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was a fort of protection for the family. Mr. Tom’s sons are terrors to the Anglo-Saxon woman. She once could visit her neighbors without fear; but not now. The Southern people are censured because of mobs. Mobs should be discouraged in all righteousness everywhere. The mobocrats do not all reside in the South; and it is safe to say that mobbing will usually follow the “nameless crime.” There is an innate law in all consciences against “forceful abduction.” It is the duty of all civilization to educate and restrain against such unnamable crimes without condoning the crime or criminal.
Would it not be just for you in this series of sermons to state the examples of cruelty to slaves as exceptions and by no means the rule? “Uncle Tom's Cabin” missed the benefits of African slavery, for the slaves were being lifted from barbarism to civilization and Christianity. The crimes committed in the name of slavery were far less than the ills that befall strikers and other laborers.
The sword of the South is her plowshare and pruning hook now. Let the stars that represent the Southern States on the flag shine in their true light.
[Dr. Burress enlisted in the 19th Mississippi early in the war, and served with it for two years in Virginia. He was commissioned a lieutenant in the Provisional Army, C. S. A., and reported at Enterprise, Miss., where he served ten months. He was then commissioned to raise a company of boys for General Forrest. He served with his boy company to the end of the war, surrendering at Columbus, Miss. When commissioned as captain of his company of boys he was twenty years old. His boys averaged from fifteen to seventeen years, and he says: “As brave as the bravest and worthy of a better captain.”—Ed. Veteran.]