« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
THE DANGEROUS WOMAN.
Even a Woman who teaches Slaves to read, is a terror to their Masters.
IN one of the slave states of the Great Republic, a woman of gentle heart and humble aspirations, followed the avocation of a teacher. She had left her home among the green hills of the colder North to earn an honest livelihood in a sunnier land. Disposed to do good to all as opportunity offered, she was particularly delighted in aiding the truly needy, and in imparting instruction to such as were unable to instruct themselves. And in the country of her adoption she found abundant occasion for the manifestation of her benevolence, for she was surrounded by slaves to whom the law closed the avenues of knowledge. In her innocent simplicity she took compassion on many of these, gathered them together and instructed them in the mysteries of reading and writing. Her proceedings becoming known to the Slaveholders of the vicinity, their indignation was greatly roused, and they seized the defenseless woman and brought her to trial for the crime. And the evidence of witnesses being produced against her, and her own admissions, her
guilt was clearly proved, and the judge proceeded to pronounce sentence in the following words:
Woman, you are charged with the great crime of teaching slaves to read and write, and from the evidence adduced the charge is most clearly proved, and it becomes my painful duty to pronounce upon you the sentence of the law. It is rarely that an offense of so grave a character is brought before this Court. Homicide, theft, and arson are crimes with which we are familiar, but the teaching ot slaves to read is a crime the rarity of which is equalled only by its enormity. The passions from which such a crime could proceed are almost unknown to the southern heart. The tree of knowledge does not grow on slave soil, and we are strangers to its fruit. We think but fair to presume that ignorance of the true genius and spirit of southern institutions, must have betrayed you into this crime, and as the Court wishes your amendment, rather than your ruin, we will state for your future profit the principles and grounds of these institutions.
They are free par excellence. They aim at the conservation of the choicest and most precious sort of liberty-that of oppressing the weak. This liberty is enjoyed by a select class of whites, who constitute the oppressors. The residue of the whites and all blacks, are the oppressed. As this species of liberty can only be perpetuated by keeping knowledge from these two classes, the law, which in the South is made by the oppressing class, guards with great jealousy all the avenues of knowledge against
the invasion of the slaves and the non-slaveholding whites. It is plain to see why this should be done. With the diffusion of knowledge would come inquiry into the justice of our social relations, and with this inquiry there would arise great dissatisfaction with their condition in the minds both of slaves and non-slaveholders. For first the slaves would begin to imagine that all men are created equal, that they have as just a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as their masters, and that they are entitled to wages for their labor. But if our four millions of slaves were once possessed of these ideas, you yourself perceive that it would be very difficult for us to maintain our authority. The dissemination of such sentiments among them would create universal disturbance, and very dangerous excitement. Must we not, therefore, suppress them? Certainly. You see, therefore, no free presses, no free teaching, no free speech in the South; for these forms of freedom are incompatible with the liberty of oppressing others-which is southern liberty. But we exclude free presses and free speech from our borders not less to prevent excitement among our slaves, than among our nonslaveholding whites. For the slave institution not only muzzles the mouths of these whites, but degrades and impoverishes them. They feel the degradation and poverty, but they do not see the connection between these evils and the slavery; nor do we intend that they shall see them. And we therefore sedulously keep knowledge and freedom of speech from their reach, as from the slave. Even
the Gospel we expurgate of all sentiments favorable to liberty, before we suffer it to be preached, and thus we think we have the institution invincibly fortified.
You understand, then, the reasons why we prohibit the teaching of slaves to read and write. We stand in great terror of the spread of knowledge. For the maintenance of our own liberties, and indeed of our own safety, absolutely demands a wide-spread and nearly universal ignorance.
It is not often, madam, that a judge in the South, sitting in open Court, ventures thus frankly to set forth the grounds and reasons of southern institutions. While we love our peculiar liberty, we feel a delicacy in openly avowing the policy we are obliged to pursue to maintain it. We would far rather dilate, on occasions like this, upon the manly grace and chivalrous features of the southern character. But when one is put on trial for the crime of teaching slaves to read, even though the person be a woman, southern courts are wont to forget all considerations of chivalry, and rush at once to the rescue; for even a woman is a terror to us when she teaches slaves to read!
The Court feels bound, madam, to visit upon you the utmost rigor of the law. You are sentenced to one year's imprisonment, where you are to be kept at hard labor.
When this sentence was heard, a murmur of general satisfaction pervaded the court-room. the defenseless woman went to prison, and expiated her crime by a year's imprisonment.