November 7, 1861: Justifying slavery to Europe

The Richmond Daily Dispatch’s editor calls for a public relations campaign for the cause of the South in Europe. As he points out, in the 1830s slavery was regarded, even in the South, as at best a necessary evil. Over the ensuing thirty years, slavery apologists such as D.B. DeBow in the South constructed an elaborate justification of slavery as beneficial to both master and slave. The editor feels that this apologia needs promoting in Europe in order to land the support of the European powers for the Confederacy.

Oh, and by the way, it’s noteworthy that, as usual, the Dispatch makes it clear in the process that the cause of the South is inseparable from slavery.

Southern politics in Europe.

–If the Southern Confederacy were a country in the Moon, instead of a part of the planet Earth, the European public could not be more ignorant than they are of Southern politics or of the true character of Southern institutions. The imperfect discussions of Southern affairs that have occurred in Europe since the war, have tended some what to relieve the BÅotion darkness that prevailed in regard to our entire affairs. Until this unexpected and startling event burst upon the old world, it knew us only through the literature of the North, or through the bedlamite declamations of itinerant Yankee Abolitionists in Exeter Hall.–The complete surprise with which Europe was taken by our sectional war, though it was a war inevitable, which had been brewing for thirty years, affords some indication of the utter ignorance which prevailed throughout that continent, of all affairs in the United States concerning the South. Not only was the foreign public ignorant of the South, but it desired to remain ignorant; and neither sought nor would tolerate information concerning the true state of Southern affairs. The South was a tabooed subject, except as a butt for abuse. Her slave-drivers, and slave institutions, were standing themes of execration; we were the bete noir, the pet abomination of the popular mind, a subject of conventional obloquy and execration. They knew us only through Uncle Tom’s Cabin, through reviews of Sumner’s speeches in the Edinburgh Quarterly, and through extracts and choice quotations from such infamous publications as Helper’s Crisis.

But for this deep-rooted prejudice, which had been planted long and firmly in the European mind, the cause of the South would have been more popular in Europe than any that has elicited the popular sympathies for half a century. As the case stands, bitterly as they hate, and profoundly as they loathe the Yankees, yet their long-standing prejudices against the South compel them to look upon the contest going on here as a struggle between bear and dog, between loathsome Yankees on one side and a degraded and debased community of slaveholders on the other.

The only avenue to public opinion in Europe is through the press — through the popular and independent press rather than the semiofficial or political; and it will be the subject of constant future regret that our Government did not send to London and Paris, at the outbreak of this war, a few able, discreet, and practiced writers, charged with the exclusive duty of putting forth through the independent press continual articles imparting correct views of Southern affairs and polities.

Our forefathers did not commit this lamentable oversight. They supplied a large fund to their Commissioners in Europe for this purpose. At the head of that Commission they placed Benjamin Franklin, a printer and editor of long experience, acquainted with the means of shaping and creating public opinion. The art of forming public opinion is known thoroughly only to men long apprenticed to service in the press. To the rest of the world, the currents taken by public opinion, seem as accidental and capricious as the course of the wind is eccentric; it is the experienced editor only who can shape their courses as readily as a skillful driver his vehicle, or a practiced helmsman his ship. One of the most remarkable features of the Revolution of 1776 was the strong support of public opinion that it elicited in Europe, not excepting even England itself. The enthusiasm which our Commissioners managed to inspire in its behalf was shown by the conduct of Lafayette, DeKalb, Kosciusko, Pulaski, Tom Paine, and the hosts of other strangers, who generously left their native countries to volunteer in the service of struggling America.

The South has well nigh let its cause go by default in Europe, in the present crisis. Nothing has been done except from individual impulse and by individual effort. The intelligent classes of the old world are anxious to sympathize with us, from their disgust and abomination of Yankeeism; but, with the lights before them, they find it impossible to overcome the prejudices that have been industriously promulgated to our injury for half a century. The intelligent mind of Europe has long long ago grown sick of the cant of Exeter Hall, are thoroughly convinced of the follow of British and French emancipation in the West Indies, and are ready to reject the whole theory and practice of abolitionism at the mere color of an argument. Some few good articles and papers have been written in Paris and London during the last few months, which have powerfully ameliorated public opinion on Southern affairs; but these have only been occasional papers by men having a world of other business on their hands; and much of their good effect has been lost by the failure to follow them up with papers of the same character. One of the grand secrets of success in indoctrinating the popular mind with ideas, consists in the judicious and timely iteration of the argument, in varied forms of speech and from various points of view. This can only be done by men whose profession is that of the pen, and whose experience has taught them the subtle art of intellectual inoculation.

One or two able writers on Southern politics, resources, and institutions, sent to London, would effect more in forming a favorable public opinion in Europe towards the South than many ship-loads of formal Plenipotentiaries and Diplomatists. These latter are only useful as the outward emblems of nationality, and as the formal vehicles of red-tape intercommunication. The real work of forming public opinion must be done, if done at all, by a more industrious, a more active, and intelligent, and a much less ostentatious set of persons.

There is no doubt of the fact that public opinion in Europe on the subject of slavery is very much in the condition in which it was in the South thirty years ago, and continued to be among the great majority of the Southern people until the last ten years. Within the latter period the whole argument has been made de novo in favor of the morality, righteousness, necessity, and beneficence, both social and political, of the institution. That argument has yet to be made in Europe. It will have to be discreetly approached and prudently put forth, but it must be presented in all its length and breadth. It can be substantially presented in statements of the financial, commercial, and industrial resources of the South. But whether covertly or openly, whether in a coat of sugar or in its naked bitterness, the pill must be administered to the diseased mind of the other continent, before we can expect to take that rank among the nations, and to extort that consideration from the powers of the earth, to which we are entitled. The most favorable period for performing this important work is the present, when the affairs of America are the uppermost topic in the European mind, and when a whole Continent stands anxious to find sound, moral ground and excuse on which to found an active and potential sympathy for our cause. Until this popular sympathy shall he secured, it is vain for the South to expect any substantial support or valuable recognition or countenance from European Governments.

We are glad to find the views we have long entertained on this subject so fully corroborated by the letter of an intelligent correspondent and prominent citizen of Virginia now in London, which we published Mondaymorning, and from which we reproduce the following paragraphs:

The more reflecting and intelligent English and Frenchmen feel that they have held and promulgated erroneous views; but few dare assume the task of teaching the opposite.–When I first went to Paris, at the end of July, it may be said that every newspaper was against us, some negatively, and others not only positively, but bitterly. Soon after three brochures–one by Hon. T. Butler King, one by Judge Pequet, (whose charming lady, by the way, was from Richmond,) and a third by M. Ernest Bellot des Minieres — made their appearance. Immediately, almost, the tone of the press changed. In a single day twelve of the journals of France came out in long and very favorable criticisms upon M. Bellot’s pamphlet. I certainly never saw a more strongly marked revulsion upon any subject than that of the French press upon this. So much for pamphleteering in France. The same remedy is to be tried here. Already the Mss. of “Common Sense Views of the American War and American Slavery” is ready for the printer, and will soon make its appearance, either through the proposed “Confederate,” or in an independent pamphlet.

A great difficulty, however, lies in the fact that the Confederate Government has strangely omitted to provide the Commissioners a penny wherewithal to provide the means of thus reaching the English ear, and the whole expense has to be borne by individuals. In view of the fact that the English Government will not act against public opinion, and that this opinion is not yet ripened for us, this omission certainly seems a strange one. In the revolutionary struggle, Dr. Franklin and his fellow-commissioners had $200,000 secret service money allowed them; but here, when the promised good is so much more manifest, and with resources so much superior to the “colonies” at that time, our commissioners have nothing. Had public opinion been properly worked up three months ago, England’s Government would have recognized ours. A virtual opening of the blockade would have followed, which, coming immediately after the disaster of Bull Run, would have disposed, as we think, the Federal Government to a peaceable settlement. If the effect of this effort had only been to have brought peace one day sooner, it would have at least saved us that one day’s war expenses — say three quarters of a millions, or ten times more than the effort would have cost us — besides the millions every day of war costs the various industrial and commercial interests of the Confederation. It might have saved us the expense, risks, and sufferings of a winter campaign, or at least would have opened the way for the introduction of those articles necessary to the energetic prosecution of the war, and others, the want of which I fear our poor soldiers will feel before the winter is over.

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