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A Southern Newspaper Concludes "We are all therefore slaves"

The Staunton Spectator, a Virginia newspaper, frequently used material printed in northern newspapers in order to defend the southern institution of slavery. In this, and many similar articles, it detailed the unfortunate circumstances that emancipated and runaway slaves from the South would inevitably face up North—racism, job discrimination, and segregation—and then presented the southern slaveholder as the "best friend of the negro." In this case, the paper selectively quoted from Henry Ward Beecher, a New York preacher, abolitionist, and supporter of the underground railroad, to bolster its claims. The article closed with a few thoughts on the meaning of freedom and slavery, suggesting that all people were slaves to work and obedient to God.

A Boston paper of recent date tells of a likely negro man, twenty-eight years old, who purchased his freedom in Virginia and removed to Boston.--He is sober, industrious and willing to work, but instead of meeting with sympathy from the Abolitionists, he had been deceived, cheated and driven from their presence….if he had the means he would gladly return to the old Virginia plantation. And this, we have reason to believe, is not an isolated case, but the experience of a large majority of emancipated slaves and run-away negroes in the Northern States.

But the most remarkable testimony on the subject, is borne by no less a personage than the notorious Henry Ward Beecher. In a recent sermon, Mr. Beecher says the free colored people at the North…" cannot even ride in the cars of our city railroads. They are snuffed at in the house of God, or tolerated with ill-disguised disgust." The negro cannot be employed as a stone mason, bricklayer, or carpenter. "….He is crowded down, down, down, through the most menial callings to the bottom of society.”…

Every word of this is no doubt true, and yet even Mr. Beecher is an agent of the "under ground railroad," actively engaged in fomenting dissatisfaction among slaves, and stealing them away from the section where they have protection and sympathy…

The intelligent, Christian slave-holder at the South is the best friend of the negro. He does not regard his bonds-men as mere chattel property, but as human beings to whom he owes duties. While the Northern Pharisee will not permit a negro to ride on the city railroads, Southern gentlemen and ladies are seen every day, side by side, in cars and coaches, with their faithful servants….

There is a vast deal of foolish talk about the delights of freedom and the hardships of slavery. In one sense no one, white or black, is free in this world. The master orders his slave to work in a certain field, when he perhaps would prefer to go elsewhere--this is slavery. But is the master free to do as he pleases! Not so.--He is driven by as stern a necessity to labor with his hands or confine himself to business, as the slave ever feels. We are all therefore slaves.--But when the man, whatever his complexion, recognizes the fact that his lot is ordained of God, and cheerfully acquiesces, he becomes a free man in the only true sense. He then chooses to do and to bear what otherwise might be irksome and intolerable.

Source | "Freedom and Slavery," Staunton Spectator, 6 December 1859, 2; from Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War,
Creator | Staunton Spectator
Item Type | Newspaper/Magazine
Cite This document | Staunton Spectator, “A Southern Newspaper Concludes "We are all therefore slaves",” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed November 27, 2021,

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