Timeline: Antebellum America1826 American Temperance Society founded1831 first publication of The Liberator1833 Britain abolishes slavery1841 New England transcendentalist communities founded1848 Revolutions across Europe1852 Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin
The moment the inexperienced youth sets his footon the sidewalk of the city, he is marked andwatched by eyes that he never dreamed of. Theboy who cries his penny-paper, and the old womanat her table professedly selling a few apples and alittle gingerbread, are not all who watch him. Thereis the seducer in the shape of the young man whocame before him, and who has already lost the lastremains of shame. There is the hardened pander tovice who has little remorse at the ruin of innocenceas the alligator has in crushing the bones of theinfant … and there is she – who was once the prideand hope of her parents – who now makes warupon virtue and exults in being a successfulrecruiting-officer of hell.Rather than have a child of mine seduced by theflatteries and black treachery of these fouldestroyers, I would see him struggling with death… I would return from his grave thankful that herests, - rests there, rather than lives to mingle withgambling fiends, to feel the damning influence oftheir oaths and curses, and to imbibe their horribleprinciples.
All the virtues that are founded in thesensibility of the heart … pity, the attributeof angels, and friendship, the balm of life,delight to dwell in the female breast.
In democracies, where the members of the community never differ fromeach other and naturally stand so near that they may all at any time befused into one general mass, numerous artificial and arbitrary distinctionsspring up by means of which every man hopes to keep himself aloof lesthe should be carried away against his will in the crowd. Etiquette is the barrier which society draws around itself as a protection against offences the “law” cannot touch; it is a shield against the intrusion of the impertinent, the improper, the vulgar – and a guard against those obtuse persons who, having neither talent nor delicacy, would be continually thrusting themselves into the society of men to whom their presence might (from the difference of feeling and habit) be offensive, and even insupportable.
c. 1830 Oh! It is grievous to see a being standing upon the threshold of an immortal existence, created for glorious purposes, and with faculties to fulfill them, discussing the merits of a ribbon, or the form of a bow, or the width of a frill, as earnestly as if the happiness of her race, or her soul’s salvation depended upon her decision. In politeness, as in every thing else connected with the formation of character, we are too apt to begin on the outside.
Thus the habits of the soul become written on the countenance; what we call the expression of the face is only the story which the face tells about the feelings of the heart.1841
The simpler and the more easy and unconstrained your manners,the more you will impress people of your good breeding. parlor scene: sentimental etiquette and dress, 1847
We may form some opinion of a man’s sense and character from his dress.sentimental dress, 1850 Will he never come?
To ride, to hunt, to smoke like a Turk in theThey say, and I am very much inclined to believe, sunshine: there is thethat in the matter of honor these men practice destiny of the white. Todelicacies and refinements unknown in the North. do any other kind ofThey are frank, hospitable, and put many things manual labor is to actbefore money. like a slave.
St John Plantation, Louisiana, 1861
Slave population in 1860
…good – a great good.[Africans] had neverexisted in so comfortable,so respectable, or socivilized a condition, as thatwhich is now enjoyed in theSouthern states.
It is not the first time I have had occasion to observe that men may repeat with theutmost confidence some maxim or sentimental phrase as self-evident or admittedtruth which is either palpably false or to which, upon examination, it will be foundthat they attach no definite idea. Notwithstanding our respect for the importantdocument which declared our independence, yet if anything be found in it, andespecially in what may be regarded as its ornament than its substance, false,sophistical and unmeaning, that respect should not screen it from the freestexamination. “All men are born free and equal”? Is it not palpably nearer the truthto say, that no man was every born free, and that no two men were ever bornequal. Man is born in the state of the most helpless dependence on other people. The means therefore, what ever they have been, by which the African race now in this country has been reduced to slavery cannot affect us, since they are our property, as your land is your property: by inheritance or purchase and prescriptive right. You will say that man cannot hold property in man. The answer is that he can and actually does hold property in his fellows all over the world in a variety of forms and has always done so.Man is born to subjection. The condition of our whole existence is but to struggle withevils. To compare them, to choose between them, and so far as we can to mitigate them.To say that there is evil in any institution is only to say that it is a human institution.
The cornerstone of the Confederacy is American negro slavery. ... As a race the African is inferior to the white man. Subordination to the white man is his normal condition. He is not his equal by nature and cannot be made so by human laws or human institutions. Our system therefore, so far as regards this inferior race, rests upon this great immutable law of nature. slavery has ever been the stepping ladder by which nations have passed from barbarism to civilizationThe negro is but a grown up child, and must be governed as a child. The masteroccupies towards it the place of parent or guardian. Like a wild horse, he must becaught, tamed, and domesticated. We find slavery repeatedly instituted by God or bymen acting under his immediate care and direction, as in the instance of Moses andJoshua. Nowhere in the Old or New Testament do we find the institution condemned, butfrequently recognized and enforced. Men are not born entitled to equal rights. It wouldbe far nearer the truth to say that some are born with saddles on their backs, and othersbooted and spurred to ride them.
I bought a boy named Isaac for $1,100.I think him very prime. He is a houseservant, first rate cook, and splendidcarriage driver. He is also a fine painterand varnisher and says he can make afine panel door. Also, he performs wellon the violin. He is a genius, andstrange to say , I think he’s smarter thanI am.
I refused a girl 20 years old at 700 dollars yesterday. If you think best to take her at700 I can still get her. She is very badly whipped but has good teeth.
from Billings’ sketch of “An American Slave Market”, 1852
In no country in the world has the principle of association been more successfully used, ormore unsparingly applied to a multitude of different objects, than in America. Besides thepermanent associations which are established by law under the names of townships, cities,and counties, a vast number of others are formed and maintained by the agency of privateindividuals.… Societies are formed to resist enemies which are exclusively of a moral nature, and todiminish the vice of intemperance: in the United States associations are established topromote public order, commerce, industry, morality, and religion; for there is no end whichthe human will, seconded by the collective exertions of individuals, despairs of attaining.(Tocqueville, Democracy) Penny dailies are to be found in every street, lane, and alley; in every hotel, tavern, countinghouse, shop.
Friedrich, “Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog” (1818) Reason is as cold as a cucumber. (Emerson) Reason is to the imagination as the instrument to the agent, as the body to the spirit, as the shadow to the substance. (Shelly) A man . . . must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasures of his species must become his own. (Shelly) One impulse from the vernal wood May teach you more of man, Of moral evil and of good, Than all the sages can. (Wordsworth)
In the woods we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, -- no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes) which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground, -- my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, --all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball. I am nothing. I see all. The currents of Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God. (Emerson) To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart, is true for all men, - that is genius. (Emerson)He seemed to be in an unusual good humor. He was excessively lively – so much so that Ientertained I know not what of uneasy suspicion. It is not impossible that he was affectedwith the transcendentals. I am not well enough versed, however, in the diagnosis of thisdisease to speak with decision upon the point … Nothing would serve him but wriggling andskipping about under and over everything that came his way; now shouting out, and nowlisping out, all manner of odd little and big words, yet preserving the gravest face in the worldall the time. I really could not make up my mind whether to kick or to pity him. (Poe, “NeverBet the Devil Your Head”)
from Harper’s Weekly, 1858
The fact is that his precocity in vice wasawful. At five months of age he used toget into such passions that he wasunable to articulate. At six months, Icaught him gnawing a pack of cards. Atseven months he was in the constanthabit of catching and kissing the femalebabies. At eight months he peremptorilyrefused to put his signature to theTemperance pledge. Thus he went onincreasing in iniquity, month after month,until at the close of the first year, he notonly insisted upon wearing moustaches,but had contracted a propensity forcursing and swearing, and for backinghis assertions by bets. (Poe, Never Betthe Devil Your Head)
a covenant with death and an agreement with hell I appear before the immense assembly this evening as a thief and a robber. I stole this head, these limbs, this body from my master, and ran off with them.