January 12, 1861: “To advocate Hell upon Earth.”

Charles O'Conor
Charles O’Conor, proslavery New York Democrat

A little anecdote from the New York Tribune:

We publish elsewhere a letter from Mr. Charles O’Conor, clinching the doctrines of his late speech. We like Mr. O’Conor. He faces the music. He faces the authorities also. We gave a list of them a few days ago, twenty-eight in number, running all the way through the ages of history, from Socrates to Brougham.

Mr. O’Conor may be fairly termed the John Brown of politics. “No dangers fright him and no labors tire.” He confronts a world in arms against his doctrines. What mental or moral tremor he may feel, we do not even conjecture; but he certainly displays none. Whether he is inwardly laughing at human gullibility, beneath a well-contrived mask, hiding his satisfaction at its display, we do not know, and probably never shall. We must fairly suppose, however, that he is in earnest. Used as he is to the occupation of a lawyer, and to unceasing efforts to make the worse appear the better reason, he may have taken up the side he now advocates with an ordinary sincerity.

In his letter, Mr. O’Conor frankly admits, with regard to his antagonists, that their “general principles cannot be refuted,” and that their “logic is irresistible”. He declares it to be impossible to assail the positions of the opponents of Slavery on any other ground than that Slavery is just, right, and beneficent. If it is not this, the right of the argument is with the Anti-Slavery people, and contention with them, or opposition to their ideas, is idle. Herein we admire the clearness of Mr. O’Conor’s view, and the immaculate soundness of his reasoning. It is true, every word true; and Mr. O’Conor’s testimony, as an opponent of Anti-Slavery doctrine, is impartial, candid, and must be deemed conclusive. There is thus nothing left for us to do but to show that Slavery is unjust.

This is a comprehensive labor, but a most easy task. The demonstration is drawn from two sources. First, from the logic of the case; and second, from its facts. The logic is very simple, and must be very familiar to Mr. O’Conor; and accordingly, for the present we will ask his attention to the facts. The printed collections of them are numerous. But we will not refer him to these. We will tell him a simple story never yet published, just by way of a sample parcel, as Mr. O’Conor’s trading friends, to whom he addresses his letter, would say.

A little less than a year ago, an English gentleman and his family went to spend some months in South Carolina for his health. On their return to the North in the Spring, they stopped on their way at the residence of a British Consul. He was at that time boarding at a hotel. A conversation arose on Slavery. “Sir,” said the landlord, “the slaves have an easy time, a very easy time. I have a slave woman in my house whom I keep well and feed well, and who has done little or no labor of any kind for the six years I have owned her.”

“That is very liberal of you, Sir,” replied the English gentleman. “Are such cases common?”

“Oh, yes, very common.”

The next day the wife of the English gentleman was spending a little time in the sitting-room of the wife of the landlord. While there a young, good-looking mulatto woman came in, appearing languid, and complaining of being sick.

Her mistress accosted her sharply, saying, “What’s the matter now, Phillis; are you going to stop having children?”

“Indeed, I hopes so, missus; I would rather die than have any more,” replied the girl.

“Phillis,” said the mistress, “don’t let me hear you talk in that way. If you stop having children, I will sell you to go South at once.”

The slave left the room in tears.

“Is that girl married?”

“No,” answered the landlady.

“How long have you owned her?”

“Five or six years,” replied the landlady.

“How many children has she had since you bought her?”

“Four,” replied the landlady.

“All living?”

“All: fine, fat, and healthy.”

The landlord subsequently disclosed the fact that this was his breeding woman, bought and kept for the purpose, and the one to whom he alluded as having an “easy time.” Her children had different fathers, chosen with reference to their stock qualities by the owner of the girl. She had been made to produce a child in almost every year since she had been purchased; and the landlord professed to be getting boys and girls, by his judicious system of crossing, equal to any in the State, and which would bring him the very highest prices. In what way the girl was coerced into this diabolical arrangement, we have seen by the interview in the sitting room.

We do not attempt to heighten this picture. We give the simple facts as related to us months ago, by the gentleman in question, in the confidence of private intercourse; and for this reason we do not wish to be more particular as to details. We only vouch for the strict truth of the narration.

Now, Mr. O’Conor, you say Slavery is just, beneficent, righteous. What do you think of his story? Can earth or hell disclose a blacker picture? Is a system whose daily history is illustrated by constantly recurring deeds like this, such a blessing as you declare Slavery to be? On your honor as a man, what say you? Do not prevaricate. Do not palter in a double sense. It is no answer to say that all forms of civilization have their evils. Those evils are not inevitable. In the system of Slavery, evils such as we have depicted are inevitable, perennially inevitable, while the nature of man endures. To approve Slavery as you approve it, is to advocate hell upon earth.

More about O’Conor here. It is easy to forget, while reading the words of Southern apologists and Northern moderates, that there was a significant contingent of people in 1860 who were passionately opposed to slavery. The sexual aspects of the master/slave relationship were particularly provocative, and this was noted by Southern apologists as well, who often advocated for more official status for slave marriages.

Note: For another, very different, perspective on the status of slave and ex-slave women in the Civil War era, see this video of Stephanie McCurry.

This entry was posted in Abolitionism, Charles O'Conor, Gender. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to January 12, 1861: “To advocate Hell upon Earth.”

  1. Luther Matsen says:

    thanks so much for the video link…I enjoy current scholarly work on this subject… thanks for the work you put on your site.

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