The Negro and the Nation: A History of American Slavery and Enfranchisement

By George S. Merriam | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V CALHOUN AND GARRISON

THUS, with the beginning of the second third of the nineteenth century, the issue as to American slavery was distinctly drawn, and the leading parties to it had taken their positions. Let us try to understand the motive and spirit of each.

In the new phase of affairs, the chief feature was the changed attitude of the South. In the sentiment of its leading and representative men, there had been three stages: first, slavery is an evil, and we will soon get rid of it"; next, slavery is an evil, but we do not know how to get rid of it"; now it became "slavery is good and right, and we will maintain it." To this ground the South came with surprising suddenness in the years immediately following 1833. What caused the change? The favorite Southern explanation has been that the violence of the Abolitionists exasperated the South, checked its drift toward emancipation, and provoked it in self-defense to justify and extend its system. This may be effective as a criticism of the extreme Abolitionists, but as regards the South it is rather a confession than a defense. On a subject involving its whole prosperity, its essential character, its relation to the world's civilization, did it reverse its course at the bitter words of a few critics? If that were true, it would bespeak passionate irritability, an incapacity for the healthy give- and-take of practical life, in keeping with the worst that could be said of the effect of slavery on the master. In truth the violence of Garrison and his few followers was

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