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The master's house

a tale of Southern life




Page 278


As Mr. Moreton was one day returning home from Beechland,
as was sometimes his wont, he dropped in at Heritage
Place. Mr. Moreton had always seemed to take great
pleasure in giving the young planter the benefits of his
varied experience, and as every hint thus received, was
cordially acted upon by Mildmay, it served to secure
him an interest in Mr. Moreton's mind, that was not called
forth by the more ordinary manner of corresponding sympathies;
for it was a fact, that the two gentlemen seldom
met and discussed matters of great import, that they did
not decidedly disagree.

Mr. Moreton's business to Beechland was to find out,
if possible, who had sold liquor to some of his negroes, but
it was as usual a fruitless task, because, although the evidence
was perfectly satisfactory to every one, yet resting
upon negro testimony alone, it was of no legal value.
Mr. Moreton, after stating the facts, gave vent to a great
deal of denunciation upon the laws, and upon the violators
of his rights, and “destroyers of his property.”


Page 279

“How can this evil be remedied?” inquired Midmay.
“I have noticed, even in the short time I have resided
here, that in spite of the prohibitions against selling ardent
spirits to slaves, that `low groggeries' are increasing in
Beechland, and the rapid demoralization of our servants
is the consequence. I feel the evil daily, and something
should be done, if possible, to remedy it; for I dare not
now send old Dan to the viliage, for he invariably gets
intoxicated, and but for the sagacity of his team in finding
its way home, I know not what might become of him.”

“So it is,” said Moreton pettishly,—“so it is; these
miserable wretches who hang about our towns, take advantage
of our laws, and their white skins, to prey upon us,
excite our servants to steal, spoil their manners, and destroy
all discipline.”

“It is evidently one of the defects of the institution,”
said Mildmay in a moralizing tone, “an evil growing out
of the fact, that the negro cannot bear testimony against
these traffickers in good morals.”

“Exactly so,” was the reply; “a law proper enough in
most cases, is taken advantage of to our serious injury.
Slavery,” continued the speaker, “is, after all, an aristocratic
institution, and it is inimical to its perpetuity to
give the poor white man political, or even legal, equality.
The planter, to secure perfect peace, ought to have the
power to arrest and punish these miserable vagrants; put
them in the stocks, and order them out of the community,
or hang them to the nearest tree.”

“I fear,” said Mildmay, “that under a government


Page 280
where all white men are theoretically free and equal, we
planters can never arrogate such power.”

“The idea of men being free and equal is a humbug,
Mr. Mildmay; and I trust you will pardon me for saying
so, because the longer I live, the more plainly I see the
absurdity of such a proposition.”

“Yet I must still indulge the idea that such is the
fact,” continued Mildmay, with the enthusiasm of youth;
“because I have hope, that our Republican institutions
will yet clearly prove the assertion of equality to be true.”

“Then,” said Mr. Moreton, who was now thoroughly
excited by his supposititious wrongs, and who was rarely
differed with in the expression of any opinion—“then we
must abandon our `Southern rights' to the mercy of people
who have no interest in their conservation.”

“How so?” said Mildmay, with evident surprise at
the proposition.

“Why,” said Mr. Moreton, with earnestness, “look at
this selling of liquor to our negroes. The laws against
such traffic are as severe as the English language can
make them, and yet they are but dead letters on our
statute books, because the enforcement of these laws is in
the hands of the very men who violate them. I know
that every grog-shop keeper in Beechland sells liquor to
negroes, and there are men, otherwise respectable, who
make a living by this cursed business.

“Two years before you came to our neighborhood,
myself, with one or two others interested, hired a cunning
fellow to disguise himself as a negro (and he was an excellent
counterfeit) for the sole purpose of catching a notorious


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scamp in the act of selling whiskey to slaves. The ruse
succeeded; the fellow managed things so adroitly, that he
spent an evening in the groggery, and found that a wholesale
trade was carried on by this vampire, with negroes
belonging to every plantation in the vicinity; that there
was a regular organized system of conveying to his den,
from miles around, pieces of machinery, corn, cotton, pigs,
silver spoons, chickens, eggs, and what not, that could be
easily carried away.

Upon this disguised fellow's testimony, we found the
groggery filled with articles recognized as stolen,—got the
thief regularly indicted by the grand jury, and brought to
trial; and what, Mr. Mildmay, do you suppose was the

“Why, he was convicted of his crimes, and made an
example of, inside of the walls of the penitentiary,” was
the confident answer.

“No, sir!” said Mr. Moreton—“no, sir! quite the
contrary. Why, sir, the groggery keepers of Beechland
conspired together, and ran our witness off, or murdered
him,—I don't know which; and they next turned in, and
whipped my negroes, and those of the planters, interested
with me in the prosecution; whipped them, sir, and
imprisoned them on foolish pretences,—and pursued us,
until we were glad to compromise by letting the matter
drop. No, Mr. Mildmay! we have not sufficient power to
protect our rights against these irresponsible poor whites,
who infest our Southern towns,—places that are, of a
truth, the cankering sores of our community.”

“Certainly Beechland is not attractive,” replied Mildmay;


Page 282
“and it would appear, from what I have seen, that
many of our planters consider when within its precincts,
that there is no necessity for self-restraint.”

“Such is really the fact,” said Mr. Moreton; “if a
man wants to gamble, get drunk, run a race, or do any
thing objectionable, he goes to Beechland, and always
finds kindred spirits to encourage him on: these towns,
sir, if it were possible, should be abolished,—the houses
razed to the ground, and their streets turned into a cotton
farm, or a potato-patch.”

“I must there differ with you,” said Mildmay, half
jocosely; “I should like to see our Southern villages

“And how could such pestiferous places flourish?”
asked Mr. Moreton, with some curiosity.

“Why, most easily Let us encourage home industry;
let us take by the hand the poor, but nevertheless,
respectable mechanic, and induce him to settle among us.
Let us endeavor, even at an apparent advance of cost, to
patronize our own workshops, and we might in that way
become gradually independent. I hear too much talk
here, Mr. Moreton, about separation from the North; if
such a thing were desirable, at present it is an utter impossibility.
I heard a stump speech at our last election,
made up of denunciations of the free States; and the
speaker, his opponent, proved, in reply, that the Southern
rights gentleman came upon the ground riding a horse
raised in Kentucky,—the bridle and blanket were from
Massachusetts; the gentleman's hat and boots were from
New Jersey; his linen from Norwalk—his coat, vest, and


Page 283
pantaloons, from New Haven,—both towns in Connecticut:
he made his quotations in favor of Southern independence
from a paper published in Boston, and quoted
from books printed in New York. Where was the gentleman's
independence, if he was thus beholden to people
abroad for every necessary of life?”

Mr. Moreton moved restlessly on his chair at these
statements, and after a moment's hesitation, replied:

“What are the people of the North good for, but to
be our clothiers and laborers?”

“Good for nothing else, I suppose,” said Mildmay,
biting his under lip; “but,” he continued, with some feeling,
“Mr. Moreton, do not let us, who should set an example,
encourage such false ideas of political economy as
are inculcated in the hue and cry of `Southern independence,'
when we are, by our practical refusal to diversify
our interests, so entirely unprepared for going alone.”

“Are we not independent?” said Mr. Moreton, excessively
annoyed; “does not the South furnish the cotton
that sustains the foreign commerce of our country? Does
not the South furnish four fifths of the value of the exports
of the whole country? Is it not our staples that furnish
the chief employment of the marine of the North? Our
productions that build up her towns and cities,—her railroads?—in
fact, produce her prosperity?”

Mildmay remained silent,—and as if sure of the justice
of his argument, Mr. Moreton, after catching his
breath, went on:

“Is there an article except our food, used in the South,
not wholly, or in part, the product of Northern labor;


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consuming millions of our resources, and illustrating the
innumerable swindles the Yankees, have to legerdemain
our dollars into their pockets?”

“And what is your remedy?” asked Mildmay, showing
an evident desire to be very attentive.

“I would,” said Mr. Moreton, triumphantly, “deprive
the Yankees of our Southern trade,—abolish all tariffs,—
and seek abroad, and at less cost, for the supplies we now
get from our Northern brethren.

“Mr. Moreton,” said Mildmay, solemnly, “like most
of our (I am sorry to say) popular Southern politicians,
you have come to the right conclusion, but in the wrong
way. I desire to cut the South loose from its dependence,
not only upon the North, but upon every thing but its
inexhaustible resources. But this glorious result must be
reached not by agitation, or popular speeches, but by hard
self-sacrificing industry. A blacksmith, my dear sir,
pounding upon his anvil from morning until night, in the
town of Beechland, would do more for Southern independence,
than all the State rights speeches that ever were
made. Go abroad for our supplies, and not possess a
single ship!—cut loose from the North, and no established
manufactures among us! Mr. Moreton, young as I am,
I have reflected deeply upon these things; and unless we
can have towns filled with a thriving, moral population,
cordially supported by the planting interest, and honored,
and not contemned, by those who cultivate the soil, it is
useless to talk of independence, and vain to suppose that
the evils you complain of at Beechland, will not continually


Page 285

Mr. Mildmay,” said Mr. Moreton, springing to his
feet, and pacing up and down the gallery; “you seem to
lack a proper confidence in the South; I am surprised to
hear a man so deeply interested in its interests as you are,
doubt its ability to take care of itself, no matter where its
enemies come from.”

“I doubt not its ability,” said Mildmay, with decision;
“but I greatly doubt its consistent energy. I
have no desire to separate the Union, but I am willing to
do all I can to render the South commercially free; let
us make ourselves independent; and I am willing to leave
the cementing together of this Great Republic to the
strong bonds of mutual interest,—to say nothing of being
by nature and historical associations really one people,
members of the same family.”

Mr. Moreton had so long entertained his opinions
without opposition, and had so allowed prejudice to obscure
his naturally superior mind, that while Mildmay's
practical arguments had their effect, they annoyed, as
well as convinced; and Mr. Moreton, as a relief, fell back
upon the reserved field, where he supposed Mildmay would
cordially meet him in his very extreme views, and abruptly

“I never can reason as coolly on these subjects as
yourself, sir, so long as I remember that the North constantly
interferes with our domestic institutions.”

“The North does interfere,” said Mildmay, a cloud
passing over his face; “but here, again, the South has a
labor of self-denial to perform. We cannot stop the freedom
of speech. Whatever was the original pretension of


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fanaticism, or hostility to our domestic slavery, it is agreed
by the North, that there is no power in Congress to interfere
with the States in the matter; here I am content to
rest; and I frankly confess, that I look upon all Southern
members in Congress, who bring slavery before that body
for the purpose of sustaining abstract rights, as injuring
the institution: and though their intentions may be good,
they are none the less practical enemies to the South.”

“I wouldn't yield even a prejudice,” said Mr. Moreton,
now thoroughly excited; “if necessary,” he continued,
“I would take up arms in defence of our institutions.
Never, never would I give up, except with my
life, even a shadow of right.”

“I cannot feel the force or utility of such feelings,”
was the reply. “I am willing to yield any thing, not of
practical value, because I deplore `agitation;' and although
I can sympathize with inconsiderate friends, yet
I am not blind to the evil resulting from their influence.

“The fugitive slave law,” continued Mildmay, “is
founded upon a constitutional basis, yet it is, when enforced
at the North, a source of the greatest evil to our good name,
and the popular support of our institution. Suppose we do
lose negroes,—in my opinion, it is more the fault of the nature
of the property, than the North, that it runs away—let
us look upon those that escape, as if it were the same amount
of value destroyed by the elements, and if we cannot manage
to be insured, let us brave our losses with philosophy.
Neither you nor I, Mr. Moreton. nor any Southern gentleman,
would personally pursue a fugitive; we would not
have one, when returned to us, upon our plantations; why,


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then, disturb the harmony of the country, by pursuing a
right, the enforcement of which is comparatively of no
value, while the poisoning of the public opinion of the
North against us, is of immense injury.”

“And would you suffer our slaves to leave us with
impunity,—absolutely invite aggression?” almost gasped
Mr. Moreton, in his astonishment at Mildmay's remarks.

“No, sir,” said Mildmay, with energy, “I would do
nothing of the kind; but what I did do for the protection
of our slavery interest should be founded in reason,—be
practical in its operation,—and accord, as far as might be
possible, with the sentiment not only of the North, but of
the world. While I would allow no interference, I would
call that man an enemy of the South who was aggressive.
I would treat slavery purely as a local and domestic institution—and
to come back to our original starting point,
by encouraging a diversity of interests in the South, we
would find ourselves, as years passed on, less dependent
upon the North for our commercial and political prosperity,
and therefore better prepared to remedy the evils of which
you complain, and thereby do what is of infinitely more
importance, meliorate the condition of the master.”