Mildred Rutherford defends slavery in address to the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
The following is an extract from an address, “The Wrongs of History Righted,” by Mildred Rutherford, delivered as UDC Historian General to the UDC convention, Savannah, Georgia, November 13, 1914, published in a pamphlet. Some extracts follow:
Was Slavery a crime and was the slaveholder a criminal?
How little the people living today know of the institution of slavery as it existed in the South before the war. I long for the eloquence of our silver-tongued orator, Benjamin H. Hill, that I might paint the picture as I remember it.
If the roll call were taken of the children in the South today they would in large numbers be found to be abolitionists, intense and fanatical, and in full sympathy with the Northern side. Why? Because from childhood they have been taught by teachers who believe this, and have been fed on such children’s books as “The Elsie Books,” Louisa Alcott’s stories, and kindred ones, besides being allowed to see moving picture shows of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Sheridan’s Ride; Contest between Merrimac and Monitor, and the like. Whom can you blame for this, parents, but yourselves?
Slavery was no disgrace to the owner or the owned. From time immemorial all civilized nations had been slaveholders. White, brown and black have been slaves.
Who was responsible for slavery in the United States? Spain and England.
What colony first owned slaves? The Jamestown colony.
Was there any colony or State of all the thirteen which did not own slaves? Not one. In 1776 there were 500,000 slaves in America and 300,000 were in the Northern colonies.
What was the condition of the Africans when brought to this country? Savage to the last degree, climbing cocoanut trees to get food, without thought of clothes to cover their bodies, and sometimes cannibals, and all bowing down to fetishes—sticks and stones—as acts of worship.
What laws became necessary when they reached this country? Very rigid and in the light of the present day civilization excessively cruel. A strong argument for the civilizing power of slavery would be to compare these colonial laws with the laws of 1860.
How did the Cavaliers regard slavery? They were very thankful to have a part in such a wonderful missionary and educational enterprise.
How did the Puritans regard slavery? They thanked God for the opportunity of bringing these benighted souls to a knowledge of Jesus Christ,
How did the Quakers regard the institution of slavery? They were always opposed to the holding of any human being as property, although it is stated that William Penn did once own slaves.
Does the Bible condemn slavery?
It certainly does not. God gave to Abraham the most explicit directions what he should do with his slaves bought with his own money, and what he should do with the ones he owned by right of capture. (Gen. 17.) Then our Lord healed the centurion’s servant and said not a word about it being a sin to hold him in bondage, (Matt. 8.) And Paul sent Onesimus, the run-away slave, back to his master with apologies, but said nothing to Philemon about freeing him, but rather offered himself to pay his master for the time Onesimus had stolen from him. (Phil. 1, 18.) And Titus was the pastor of a slave church. Paul wrote to him to exhort those slaves to be obedient to their masters, not to answer back again, and not to steal, but to adorn
the doctrine of God their Savior in all things. (Titus 2:9, 10.) See also Eph. 6:5, 6, 7, 8.
Did the slaveholder in the South take an interest in the religious condition of the negro?
He certainly did. More negroes were brought to a knowledge of God and their Savior under this institution of slavery in the South than under any other missionary enterprise in the same length of time. Really more were Christianized in the 246 years of slavery than in the more than thousand years before.
In 1861 there were, by actual statistics, in the seceding States 220,000 negro Baptists, 200,000 Methodists, 31,000 Presbyterians, 7,000 Episcopalians, and 30,000 belonging to unclassified Christian churches.
The negro race should give thanks daily that they and their children are not today where their ancestors were before they came into bondage.
Was the negro happy under the institution of slavery? They were the happiest set of people on the face of the globe,—free from care or thought of food, clothes, home, or religious privileges,
The slaveholder felt a personal responsibility in caring for his slaves physically, mentally, morally, and spiritually. By the way, we never called them slaves, they were our people, our negroes, part of our very homes. I do not remember a case of consumption, or I should say now tuberculosis, among the negroes in the South. I do not recall but one crazy negro in those days. Hospitals and asylums cannot now be built fast enough to accommodate them.
I am not here to defend slavery. I would not have it back, if I could, but I do say I rejoice that my father was a slaveholder, and my grandfathers and great-grandfathers were slaveholders, and had a part in the greatest missionary and educational endeavors that the world has ever known. There never have been such cooks, such nurses or mammies, such housemaids, such seamstresses, such spinners, such weavers, such washer-women. There never have been such carpenters, blacksmiths, butlers, drivers, field hands, such men of all work as could be found on the old plantations. Aunt Nanny’s cabin was a veritable kindergarten where the young negroes were trained to sew, to spin, to card, to weave, to wash and iron, and to nurse; where the boys were taught to shell peas, to shuck corn, to churn, to chop wood, to pick up chips, to feed pigs, to feed
chickens, to hunt turkey, duck, guinea, goose and hen eggs and to make fires, and to sweep the yards. Did the negroes hate their owners, and resent bondage? I need only to call to mind what happened when John Brown tried to make them rise and murder their masters and their masters’ children. I need only call to mind what happened when their masters went to battle, leaving in absolute trust “Ole Mis” and the children to their protection. I need only call to mind what happened after they were free that made Thad Stevens’ Exodus Order necessary in order to tear them from their old owners. I need only call to mind the many mammies who stayed to nurse “Ole Marster’s” children to the third and fourth generation;
Compare the race morally to what it was then. “Ole Marster” never allowed his negroes to have liquor unless he gave it to them. Crimes now so common were never known then. While the negro under the present system of education may know more Latin and Greek, it does not better fit him for his life work. It is true the negro did not go to school under slavery, but he was allowed to be taught, if he so desired. I have in mind a young aunt who taught three negro women every night because they wanted to read their Bibles. I have in mind my mother on the plantation surrounded every Sunday afternoon teaching to the negro children the same verses of Scripture, the same Sunday School lesson, the same hymns that she taught her own children.
As in family life a child must be punished if disobedient, so in plantation life a negro had to be punished if disobedient. Even admitting that some overseers were cruel, will the most exaggerated cases of cruelty compare with the burning of the witches at Salem or the awful conditions of the captured Africans on the slave ships, or the fearful conditions in the sweat shops of Chicago and New York today? The slave was the property of the slaveholder and a selfish reason would have protected him if there had been no higher motive.
No, the slaveholder was no criminal and slavery under the old regime was no crime. In all the history of the world no peasantry was ever better cared for, more contented or happier.
These wrongs must be righted and the Southern slaveholder defended as soon as possible.