New York Tribune editorial; A Southern Manifesto

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
A Southern Manifesto

The New York Daily Tribune, August 31, 1859; page 4

3121300A Southern Manifesto

A Southern Manifesto

The speech of Jefferson Davis to the Democracy of Mississippi, assembled in Convention at Jackson, which we print in to-day's Tribune, is a manifesto of more than ordinary importance. Mr. Davis is unquestionably the foremost man of the South at the present day. In the Senate, his preëminence among his slaveholding colleagues is conceded on all hands. Every Northern Senator will admit that from the Southern side of that floor, the most formidable adversary to meet in debate is the thin, pale, polished, intellectual-looking Mississippian, with the unimpassioned demeanor, the habitual courtesy, and the occasional unintentional arrogance which reveals the keen consciousness of great and commanding power. It is a mistake to confound him with declaimers like Keitt, or with vulgar, conceited brawlers like Brown, his senatorial colleague from Mississippi, or with mere scheming politicians like Green, Clingman, Slidell, and Benjamin. He belongs to a higher grade of public men, of whom, formerly, the Slaveholding Democracy was prolific, but of whom, in Congress at least, himself and Mr. Hunter of Virginia are the only examples left. From the weight of their character in their own section, the words of such men, on subjects of national interest, are entitled to national consideration.

Mr. Davis begins with a eulogium upon the Democratic Party, which he styles "the party of stability and progress," to the prevalence of whose principles for fifty years he ascribes the fame, the prosperity, the growth and happiness of the country. Passing over this, which though skillfully put, is not particularly novel, we come to the equally stale assertion that the North is greatly benefitted by the Slavery of the South. "Deduct from their trade and manufactures all which is dependent upon the product of slave labor, their prosperity would fate, and poverty would come upon them 'as one who traveleth.'" Doubtless Mr. Davis knows better than this. His residence in New-England last Summer must have taught him that the prosperity of the North is due to intelligence, industry, and energy, which are qualities of Freedom and not of Slavery. But the character of his ignorant and prejudiced audience made the presentation of such flattering fallacies, perhaps, necessary. The truth is, that all that the trade and manufactures of the North draw from the products of slave labor, is less than is drawn from any one of a dozen of her own crops or her own staples; less than the hay crop, the potato crop, the fruit crop; less, by far, than the annual yield of the forests or the mines. There are many branches of trade and manufacture at the North, the loss of which would be more severely felt than the entire cessation of intercourse with the Slave States. Throughout this part of his speech Mr. Davis argues as if the Free States were wholly commercial and manufacturing communities, "who, for want of land and by rigor of climate, find in the workshops their only industrial employment." What preposterous nonsense is this! The agriculture of the North is far in advance of that of the South, and feeds well and clothes well seventeen millions of people, while that of the Slave States performs the same service imperfectly for less than twelve millions.

The question of reopening the slave-trade, Mr. Davis deals with boldly and frankly. He denies the power of Congress to prohibit the African slave-trade, and makes the admission, which may be of importance in the not distant future, that Congress has just as much right to regulate the inter-State slave-trade as the foreign slave-trade. The law of 1820 against the African traffic, he regards as "one of those departures which result from substituting a temporary expediency for immutable truth." Even considerations of public safety or interest "could not justify the Government in branding as infamous the source from which the chief part of our laboring population is derived. It is this feature of the law which makes it offensive to us, and stimulates us to strive for its repeal."

Mr. Davis, however, regards the repeal of the laws against the slave-trade as hopeless for the present. Nor, if they were repealed, is he quite sure that it would be good policy for Mississippi to avail herself of the opening. "Her place in history; her rank among the States; her power to maintain natural and constitutional rights, depend upon her people - the free, intelligent, high-minded sons of the governing race." Too great an influx of negroes might be detrimental; but this view, he significantly adds, "is not supposed to be applicable to Texas, to New-Mexico, or to any future acquisitions to be made south of the Rio Grande - all of which countries can only be developed by slave labor in some of its forms." From the consideration of the slave-trade, Mr. Davis passes to that of Slavery. "The judgments of God are not as those of men," he piously ejaculates. "When the Spaniards discovered this continent, and reduced the sons of Shem to bondage, unsuited to that condition they pined and rapidly wasted away in unproductive labor. The good Bishop Las Casas, with philosophical humanity, inaugurated the importation of the race of Ham; they came to relieve from an unnatural state the dwellers in tents, and to fulfill their own destiny - that of being the servant of servants." A profound theologian is Mr. Davis. First, by a bold stroke in ethnology, he solves the perplexing problem of the origin of the American Indians by calling them the sons of Shem - a solution for which, we need scarcely say, there is not the slightest authority in Scripture, history, or tradition. Next, the negroes are the race of Ham, for which there is just as little authority. By Ham, or the children of Ham, the Scriptures designated the Egyptians. In the last century, when it was commonly believed from certain passages in Herodotus, and from the erroneous statements of a few travelers, that the ancient Egyptians were negroes, the term Ham was applied to the whole African race, purely because they were believed to be of the same origin with the Egyptians. Modern ethnological science has, however, shown conclusively that the Egyptians were not negroes, but were a brown race of Asiatic origin, of the same general stock with the Arabs, the Jews, the Syrians, &c. That being the case, it follows that the ascription of the lineage of Ham to the negroes is a sheer blunder. Yet the Pro-Slavery casuists of the South, while they eagerly accept the demonstration which shows that the learned and civilized Egyptians were not negroes, just as eagerly cling to the notion of the Hametic origin of the Africans which depended entirely on their identity of race with the people of Egypt.

But again, it is well known to all who know anything of history, that the slaves of the ancients were not negroes, but whites, and the whitest of the whites, the Britons, the Gauls, the Germans, the Thracians, and the fair and finely-formed tribes of the Caucasus. It was of the Northern barbarian, and not of the Southern negro, that the Greeks and Romans made slaves. Spartacus, the leader of the great servile insurrection in Italy, was a Thracian from the banks of the Danube, and the slaves who revolted with him were mostly from the same region. The slaves of the Hebrews were of the "heathen round about them;" that is to say, Phenicians, Syrians, Arabs, &c. There is not the slightest reason to suppose that the Hebrews ever held a single negro slave. The nearest negro nations were nearly two thousand miles from Palestine, and were entirely cut off from intercourse with the Hebrews. And in the Middle Ages the slaves were still of white races. The great slave-holding Mahommedan nations of the north of Africa, through the Middle Ages, and down almost to our own day, drew their slaves chiefly from Europe, from Christian prisoners of war. According to Mr. Davis, then, and to the new-light prophets of Southern theology, the plans of Providence were thwarted, the scheme of the Scriptures was unfulfilled, and the accursed children of Ham evaded or defied their destiny for more than four thousand years - that is, from the Deluge down to the beginning of the fifteenth century of our era, when a Spanish Bishop, the good Las Casas, "with philosophical humanity," and in the true spirit of exegesis, "inaugurated the importation" of Guinea negroes into America, and unfolded to the Christian world the right interpretation of Holy Writ!

To expose all the fallacies to which Mr. Davis has given utterance on this topic would consume much more space than we care to give the subject. for example, he asserts that "no where has the negro shown capacity to found civil government" - in the face of the existence of hundreds of negro States in Africa, where civil governments existed for ages before Mississippi was founded; "and at no time has he asserted his equality by separating himself from the master race to establish an independent community of his own." Has Mr. Davis never heard of Hayti?

Mr. Davis takes decided ground against the "non-intervention" doctrine of Mr. Douglas in regard to Slavery in the Territories. He emphatically maintains the right of Congress to legislate for the protection of slave property in the Territories, and declares that the acquiescence of the South in that doctrine at the time of the Compromises of 1850 was only "to gain the time necessary for the people to reflect and rally." In other words, it was only a tub thrown to the Northern whale to divert its attention for a while. we commend this candid avowal of the policy of the South to those who are yet disposed to rely upon the moderation and good faith of the slaveholders, or who doubt the existence of a settled purpose of encroachment on the free institutions of the country. The march of aggression may pause for a moment and may even seem to yield to opposition, but let that opposition for a moment relax and it will become evident that the seeming relinquishment was only a trick to gain time.

With regard to Cuba, Mr. Davis urges its acquisition upon many grounds - among others, for the reason that the Island would be of paramount importance to a Southern Confederacy, whenever that shall be formed, and its formation he seems to regard as almost inevitable. This is a view of the Cuba question which is assuredly well calculated to attract the attention of the "Union-loving" Democracy of the North. No better field for the exercise of their peculiarly disinterested devotion to their Southern rulers is likely to offer than this.

In conclusion, Mr. Davis explicitly says: "In the contingency of a President on the platform of Mr. Seward's Rochester speech, let the Union be dissolved." As Mr. Seward's speech was in accordance with the Republican platform of 1856, this may fairly be construed into a declaration on the part of Mr. Davis that the election of a Republican President will be the signal for an attempt to dissolve the union of the States. We do not believe that the attempt will be made; but we believe nothing will prevent its being made unless it be the fear of the consequences, personal and political, likely to follow the attempt. What those consequences will be we do not now propose to show. We suspect, however, that if a Republican President shall be elected in 1860, and Mr. Davis and the State of Mississippi undertake to rebel against the Government, it is probable that any dissolution that may ensue will be the dissolution, not of the American Republic, but of the connection between the souls and bodies of Mr. Jefferson Davis and his fellow-traitors.

Meanwhile, we hope no one will fail to read this speech. It presents in a concentrated form all that the best intellect of the slaveholding class has to say on the whole range of our politics as they now stand. It is the manifesto of the South. Let her be heard and indeed calmly and reasonably. The effect of her argument on any well-informed Northern reader will only be amazement that the slaveholding class has really so little to urge in its own vindication.