Setting the stage: We are on a boat with our friend Tom, traveling South to an unknown destination when we meet another slave named Lucy and her child who have been sold to Haley, the trader, without their realization. As if that weren’t bad enough, Haley sells Lucy’s child without her knowledge and sneaks the child off the boat when her back is turned. Lucy is, of course, in great distress when she finds out her baby is gone. Haley, on the other hand has “completely overcome every humane weakness and prejudice.” We wonder how he can be so heartless, but Stowe issues Warning #1:
His heart was exactly where yours, sir, and mine could be brought, with proper effort and cultivation…You can get used to such things, too, my friend; and it is the great object of recent efforts to make our while northern community used to them, for the glory of the Union.
This strikes me as a very true and timely warning. Just think how much “recent efforts” have been spent trying to convince our nation that abortion, to bring up just one example, is necessary, proper and even moral.
And lest we continue to place blame solely in the hands of the trader, Haley, Stowe gives us Warning #2 later in the chapter:
But who, sir, makes the trader? Who is most to blame? The enlightened, cultivated, intelligent man, who supports the system of which the trader is the inevitable result, or the poor trader himself? You make the public sentiment that calls for his trade, that debauches and depraves him, till he feels no shame in it; and in what are you better than he? In the day of a future Judgement, these very considerations may make it more tolerable for him than for you.
This probably caused many people reading at the time to look a bit closer to home when dishing out blame, and so should we. It’s always easier to point a finger toward others than to see where the root of the problem lies.
Stowe ends the chapter by referring two “great men” of the time who were actively preaching against foreign slave trade: Wilberforce and Clarkson. I had heard of William Wilberforce, but not Clarkson. Here’s a quick history lesson/refresher, in case you were interested and, like me, your book has no historical notes.
W. Wilberforce was a British politician who spent much of his career “preaching” against the slave trade. As an indirect result of his work, the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, abolishing slavery in most of the British Empire was passed.
Thomas Clarkson was another British abolitionist who founded the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade.
Whew! History lesson and Dose of The Law in one post. I promise the next will be lighter. I’d better go and read the comics or something.