The American state,—which, as Franklin said, "first set forth religious truth as the basis of government," formed by the people, who, calling on all mankind to witness their solemn appeal to the Supreme Judge of the world, "pledged themselves," as Adams said, "to extinguish Slavery as soon as practicable,"—the state formed to establish justice,—the state for which the founders reverently adopted as the true emblem the Goddess of Liberty,—had, at the time when Slavery, the patricide, waged this war to finish the revolution already almost complete, so essentially changed, that it bore a striking resemblance to that dreadful picture of the giant form of the Leviathan. Populus Romanus repente factus est alius.
It will be difficult to decide which branch of our government was most efficient in producing this change; as it will be difficult for one who considers the principle, or want of principle, on which this Juggernaut was constructed, to decide which would be the more horrible, a decision by battle or by the robed ministers of evil. But as the Leviathan, Slavery,—the Mortal God, the incarnation of Evil,—is growing more and more shadowy, and men again behold the heavenly Guardian of their State, Americans feel, and the world agrees, that war, though it reaches other classes and in different form, is really attended with less horror and woe at the time than several judicial decisions have occasioned; and that the lasting results of battles are incalculably more insignificant than the judgments of courts may be.
* * * * *
Roger Brooke Taney was, when nearly sixty years old, placed at the head of the Judiciary, at a critical time in American affairs. The Slave Power, so successful in extending its dominion, and already the controlling influence in the government, was pressing its unholy and arrogant demands openly and without shame. It had destroyed civil liberty in the Slave States, and was fast destroying it in the Free. It was stifling the right of petition in Congress, and smothering free speech in the States. The Executive was recommending that the mails should be sifted for its safety. The question of the right of Slavery in the Territories and the Free States was taking form, and the slave-catchers claimed to hunt their prey through the Northern States, without regard to the rights of freemen or the law of the land. Taney had long been known as an astute and skilful lawyer, a man of ability and learning in his profession—as ability and learning are commonly gauged. He had been Attorney-General of Maryland, and in 1831 had been appointed Attorney-General of the United States. He was an ardent partisan supporter of the administration; and in 1833, when Duane refused to remove the deposits, he was appointed to the Treasury as a willing servant, and did not hesitate to do what was expected of him.
In 1835, while the country was deeply agitated by questions concerning the rights of States and the powers of the government, he was nominated to a vacancy on the Supreme Bench. His opinions on those questions were well known, and the consideration of his nomination indefinitely postponed.
But some time after the death of Chief Justice Marshall, which occurred on the 6th of July, 1835, Taney was nominated as his successor, and in 1836, the political complexion of the Senate having in the mean time changed, was confirmed by party influence, and took his seat at the head of the Judiciary in January, 1837.
He was essentially a partisan judge, as much so as were the judges of King Charles, who decided for the ship-money in accordance with their previously announced opinions. The President wrote him a letter in which he thanked him for abandoning the duties of his profession and promptly aiding him by removing the deposits; and Webster declared he was the pliant tool of the Executive. The Massachusetts, Kentucky, and New York cases in the very first volume of the Reports showed that, if not swift to do the work for which he had been selected, he did not hesitate to embody his political principles in judicial decisions. But we do not intend to examine these, or to review the long series of decisions, extending over more than a quarter of a century, and through more than thirty volumes, on the common or even the grander questions discussed in that tribunal, which will all, or nearly all, be unknown,—save to the profession,—and will have but little influence on the welfare of the country and the course of history. We would consider only the more important of those decisions touching Slavery, the cause of this Revolution, which have already shaped the course of events, and become the record of his character as a jurist, a patriot, and a man.
His private opinions about Slavery are not matter of comment or inquiry. There are two official opinions given by him while Attorney-General in 1831 which relate to the matter. In one of these he had to consider whether the United States would protect the right of a slave-master over his slave, employed as a seaman on a ship trading to one of the States, in which he expressed the opinion that the United States could not, by treaty, control the several States in the exercise of their power of declaring a slave free on being brought within their limits. In the other, he held that a person removing his slaves with him to Texas, merely for a temporary sojourn, and with the intention of returning again in a short time to the United States, might safely bring his slaves back with him. But he then declared, that if the owner had placed his slaves in Texas as their domicile, he would be liable to prosecution, under the act of Congress, if he should bring them back into the United States.
In 1837, the very year Taney took his seat on the Supreme Bench, he gave the opinion of the Court in the cases of the Garonne and the Fortune, two vessels libelled, under the act of 1818, for bringing as slaves into New Orleans persons who had, in 1831 and 1835, been carried to France and some of them manumitted there. The judge then said that, "assuming that by French law they were entitled to freedom, there is nothing in this act to prevent their mistress bringing them back and holding them as before."
He seems to have considered it immaterial, or to have been ignorant, that, in accordance with the maxim, "Once free, forever free," declared in the courts of his own State of Maryland, the courts of Louisiana held, as did those of Kentucky and other States also, that, "having been for one moment in France, it was not in the power of her former owner to reduce her again to slavery," and to have forgotten the doctrines of one of his own opinions.
Slavery, when he came upon the bench, began to look to the Supreme Court as its surest defence.
The Prigg case, as it is called, or, as lawyers call it, Prigg vs. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, was an amicable suit; the parties in interest being the States of Maryland and Pennsylvania, which were represented by the ablest counsel, who came into court, as Johnson, Attorney-General of Pennsylvania, said, "to terminate disputes and contentions which were arising, and had for years arisen, along the border line between them, on the subject of the escape and delivering up of fugitive slaves." The counsel regarded themselves, as he said, as engaged in "the work of peace," and "of patriotism also."
Edward Prigg and others were indicted in Pennsylvania for kidnapping a negro woman on the 1st of April, 1837. The cause came to trial before the York Quarter Sessions, May 22, 1839; and the counsel agreed that a special verdict should be taken and judgment rendered, and thereupon the case carried up, so as to present the questions of law arising, under the Pennsylvania Emancipation Act of 1780, upon the United States act of 1793 touching fugitives from labor, and the statute of Pennsylvania passed in 1826, which provided for the seizure and surrender of fugitive slaves and for the punishment of kidnapping. The case was made up and presented in that spirit of compromise which has been the bane and delusion of America, (as if there could be any compromise of justice,)—the counsel for Pennsylvania claiming that their statute was auxiliary to that of the United States, really beneficial to Slavery, and that they advocated the true interests of the South as well as of the Union and the North,—in order to have the Judiciary authoritatively settle the vital question of the rights of the master in the seizure, and of the States in the rendition, of fugitive slaves. The Court decided, fully, that the master had a right to seize his fugitive slave wherever he could find him, and take him back without process; that the law of 1793 was constitutional; and that the United States had the exclusive power of legislation on that matter.
But this did not satisfy Chief Justice Taney. He agreed that the master had the right of seizure. He declared that this right was the law of each State, and that no State had power to abrogate or alter it, and foreshadowed the idea that the Constitution carried Slavery over all the Territories and States. But he dissented from the Court when they held the Pennsylvania act to be invalid. And without relying on any principle, without any discussion of, or the slightest allusion to, any authorities or the great fundamental questions involved in that issue, he coolly depicted the inconveniences the slave-catcher might be subject to in States where there was but one District Judge, and how essentially he would be aided by the State legislation; and pointed out to his brethren those "consequences" which they did "not contemplate" and to which they "did not suppose the opinion they had given would lead." And he said that, where the States had such statutes, "it had not heretofore been supposed necessary, in order to justify those laws, to refer them to the questionable powers of internal and local police. They were believed to stand upon surer and safer grounds, to secure the delivery of the fugitive slave to his lawful owner."
Counsel said, "The long, impatient struggle on that question was nearly over. The decision of this Court would put it at rest." It was not so. This decision was made in 1843. But from that time the strife over that question was more violent than ever. The Slave Power took this decision as a new concession and guaranty. It certainly affirmed the right of the master to exercise his absolute power, in the most offensive form, to be beyond control of all legislation whatever, State or National. The Court doubtless meant, as the States and the counsel did, by giving to Congress the exclusive power of legislation on the surrender of fugitives from labor, to settle this question in such form as to satisfy the Slave Power.
If the opinion of Mr. Webster be worth anything, they forgot the maxim, "Judicis est jus dicere, non dare." Most surely Taney ignored his State-Rights doctrines when, looking far on for the interests of Slavery and the convenience of slave hunters, he held the United States authorized to legislate on the matter; and, disguising the poison under the phrase, "the Constitution and every clause of it is part of the law of every State of the land," he put forth the dogma that the rendition clause merely provided for the rights of citizens, "put them under protection of the General Government," and made "the rights of the master the law of each State." He was declaring a rule of government, not a rule of law, and creating a theory for the defence of property in man.
In 1850 he went a step farther. A Kentucky slave-owner had been in the habit of letting some of his slaves go into Ohio to sing as minstrels. He filed a bill against a steamboat and her captain to recover the value of those slaves, who, after their return, had been carried across the river and escaped. It must be remembered that they had not first escaped, but had been carried to Ohio. But here, again, without recurring to any of the principles presented and fairly involved in such an issue, again looking far on to consequences in the interest of Slavery, again ignoring, not only the first principles of jurisprudence and the declared ends of the Constitution, but even his own political State-Rights doctrine, (for if these men had not escaped, why could not Ohio free them?) he declared a doctrine pregnant with mischief,—that each State had the absolute right to decide the status of all persons within its limits. This, too, has gone with war. But his intent is none the less clear. The theory was obviously stated with a far-reaching view to remote consequences. And it must be considered in connection with the fact that, in lieu of the old rule which had been recognized by the Slave States, that a slave, by being carried to a Free State or domiciled for a day in a foreign country by whose law he was enfranchised, was liberated forever,—once free, free forever and everywhere,—the Slave Power was beginning to assert a new rule for reenslavement by recapture and on return.
But the Slave Power, having controlled the executive and directed the legislative branch of the government, again turned to judicial power as the surest, and best able to work out easily the largest and most lasting results. The Dred Scott case was begun in 1854, and brought up, twice argued, and finally decided in 1856; Chief Justice Taney delivering the opinion of the Court. The facts and result of that case are well known. In a cause dismissed for want of jurisdiction, this Court pretended to decide that no person of African slave descent could ever be a citizen of the United States, and that the adoption of the Missouri Compromise line by the Congress of 1820, acquiesced in for thirty-five years, was unconstitutional. This doctrine was entirely extrajudicial, and, as one of the judges declared, "an assumption of authority."
We do not propose to discuss this decision. It was the lowest depth. It probably did more than all legislative and executive usurpations to revive the spirit of liberty,—to recall the country to the principles of the founders of the Constitution. It began the good work,—evoking the truth, by showing its own fiendish principles,—which the war is likely to finish forever. We wish, however, to give an analysis of the doctrines and reasons on which his decision was based, and therefrom to show what is the true place of Roger Brooke Taney as a jurist and a patriot.
Now the course of his argument was this,—admitting that all persons who were citizens of the several States at the time of the adoption of the Constitution became citizens of the United States, to show that persons of African descent, whose ancestors had been slaves, were not in any State citizens.
And first, he tries to show this "by the legislation and histories of the times, and the language used in the Declaration of Independence"; and after referring to the laws of two or three Colonies restricting intermarriage of races, and affirming that, though freed, colored persons were in all the Colonies held to be no part of the people, and declaring that "in no nation was this opinion more uniformly acted upon than by the English government and people," admitting that "the general words 'all men are created equal,' etc., would seem to embrace the whole human family," and that the framers of the Declaration were "high in their sense of honor, and incapable of asserting principles inconsistent with those on which they were acting," he argues that, because they had not fully carried out, and did not afterwards fully carry out, their avowed principles by instant and universal emancipation, therefore he can give to as plain and absolute words as were ever written, expressive of universal laws, a force just opposite to their terms;—a new form of argument, which begins by assuming the truth of the proposition desired, and ends by denying the truth of the admitted premises.
He then proceeds, to inquire if the terms "we, the people," in the Constitution, embraced the persons in question. Here, too, he admits that they did embrace all who were members of the several States. Then, turning round the power given Congress to end the slave-trade after 1808, and arguing from it as a reserved right to acquire property till that time; laying aside the fact that the framers of the Declaration had acted on their declared principles, and that in many States, as in Massachusetts and Vermont, even in Southern States, as in North Carolina they remained till 1837, many freed colored persons were citizens at that time, with the remark, that "the numbers that had been emancipated at that time were but few in comparison with those held in slavery," assuming that the very acts of the States suppressing the slave-trade helped instead of destroying his argument; arguing from the fact that Congress had not authorized the naturalization of colored persons, or enrolled them in the militia; arguing even from State laws passed in the most passionate moments as late as 1833; going back to the old Colonial acts of Maryland in 1717, and of Massachusetts in 1705; even coming down to the fact that Caleb Cushing gave his opinion that they could not have passports as citizens; denying that the "free inhabitants" in the Articles of Confederation, which he was forced to concede did in terms embrace freemen, actually did include them, because the quota of land forces was proportioned to the white inhabitants,—he affirmed that they were not and never could become citizens, that neither the States nor the nation had power to lift them from their abject condition. The United States could naturalize Indians. But neither the United States nor the individual States could make colored persons citizens.
The Chief Justice stated that colored persons were not, at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, citizens under the laws of the several States and the laws of the civilized world. But he knew, for it had been shown to him in the arguments, that such persons, and many who had been slaves, were then citizens in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and North Carolina, as they likewise were in Vermont, Pennsylvania, and in other States. And he knew—for in 1831 he himself said it was "a fixed principle of the law of England, that a slave becomes free as soon as he touches her shores"—that he declared as law what was not the law of civilized nations; that in 1762 Lord Northington declared that "as soon as a man sets foot on English ground he is free"; and that Lord Mansfield had, in 1772, held that "Slavery is so odious that it cannot be established without positive law." He knew (or he declared what he did not know) that at that day the sentiment in France was so directly to the contrary, that in 1791 the law was "Tout individu est libre aussitot qu'il est en France." At the time to which he referred, public opinion in the American States and in foreign countries, and the legislation of the various States, were just the opposite of what he stated them to be. Liberty was just at the moment more truly the sentiment of the country and of states in amity with it than at any other. The assertion, that colored persons could not be and were not citizens of the several States, was simply false. In most if not in all of the States such persons were citizens. In 1776, the Quakers refused fellowship with such as held slaves; that sect, through all the States, enfranchised their slaves, who, on such enfranchisement, became citizens. American courts were not behind the English courts. States adopted the language of the Declaration into their Constitutions for the purpose of universal emancipation, and the courts decided that that was its effect. At the time of the adoption of the Constitution the leading men of all sections considered emancipation essential to the realization of the American idea; for their government was founded on a theory, and avowed principles, which rendered it necessary, and which, with the performance of the pledges of the States and the exercise of the powers directly given to the Union, would make liberty universal and perpetual.
Taney even argued that persons of African descent could not be citizens, because they could "enter every State when they pleased, without pass or passport, and without obstruction, to sojourn there as long as they pleased, to go where they please, at every hour of the day or night, without molestation, unless they committed some violation of law for which a white man would be punished; and it would give them full liberty of speech, in public and in private, upon all subjects upon which its own citizens might speak, to hold public meetings," and "to bear arms"! As if this would not be to a true jurist and just judge expounding a Constitution made "to establish justice" itself the ground to for deciding that citizenship was opened to them by emancipation; as if the blessings of liberty ought not to prevail over any inconveniences to slave-holders.
His argument from subsequent legislation was perfectly idle. For, at most, the statutes of Naturalization and Enrolment merely showed that Congress did not then choose to apply to colored persons the power given to them in absolute terms, and which he admits they had as to Indians. While in other statutes, as that of 1808, of Seamen, and in several treaties, as, for instance, those whereby Louisiana, Florida, and New Mexico were acquired, colored persons are expressly named as citizens.
Having denied the clear facts of history, renounced the obligation of explicit language, professed to stand on an argument every member of which was destructive of his conclusion, he thus stated the result: "They were at that time," 1789, "considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings, who had been subjugated by the dominant race, and, whether emancipated or not, yet remained subject to their authority, and had no rights or privileges but such as those who held the power and the government might choose to grant them"; that the opinion had obtained "for more than a century" that they were "beings of an inferior order," with "no rights which the white man was bound to respect," who "might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery," "an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic wherever a profit could be made of it"; and this opinion was then "fixed and universal in the civilized portion of the white race,"—"an axiom in morals as well as politics." He then declares, that to call them "citizens" would be "an abuse of terms" "not calculated to exalt the character of the American citizen in the eyes of other nations."
No wonder the nations pointed the finger of scorn, and cried out, "Is this the perfection of beauty, the joy of the whole earth? Shade of Jefferson! is this the reading America was to give the Declaration? Did you publish a lie to the world? Spirits of Franklin, Adams, and Washington! is this your work? Americans! is this your character?"
He declares, further, that the Court has no right to change the construction of the Constitution; that "it speaks in the same words, with the same meaning and intent, with which it spoke when it came from the hands of its framers, and was voted on and adopted by the people of the United States. Any other rule of construction would abrogate the judicial character of this Court, and make it the mere reflex of the popular opinion or passion of the day. This Court was not created by the Constitution for such purposes. Higher and graver trusts have been confided to it; and it must not falter in the path of duty!" Would to God it had not faltered in the path of duty, that it had been true to those higher and graver trusts! Would that it had not been the mere reflex of popular opinion or the passion of the day, that it had not abrogated its judicial character! Would that it had read the plain words in the holy spirit in which they were written! Would that it had left the Constitution as it was, and, instead of thus writing its own condemnation, had shown how efficient an instrument that Constitution would be, if fearlessly used to carry out the great principles of humanity for which its preamble declares it was established!
Here is the key to the new distinction between the Constitution as it is and the Constitution as it was. But as it was in the beginning, so it is and shall be.
But Taney could not stop here. Compromises had been made through the other branches of the government,—compromises held sacred for more than a generation, in the vain hope to appease the insatiate lust of the Slave Power. He went on with a longer and lower argument to declare one branch of the Compromise—the act of Congress prohibiting slavery in territory north of 36 deg. 30'—void.
Even more,—for he seemed determined to make clean work of it,—he went on to say that a slave who had been made free by being taken (not escaping, but by being carried by his owner) to a Free State was reduced to slavery again on arriving back in the State from which he had been taken, and that that was the result of Strader vs. Graham, which declared that the status of persons, whether free or slave, depended on the State law. Here, again, he sacrificed his cherished party principles to his love for Slavery. Else how could the State to which the slave had been carried be deprived of its right to enfranchise, or how could the United States power be extended further than to the expressly granted case of escape?
But no. He was a judicial Calhoun. His dogma was that the fundamental law guaranteed property in man. He declared that therefore Congress could not interfere with it in the Territories. Before he was judge, he admitted the right of sojourn. There was but one step more,—the sacred right of slave property in Free States. It was involved in what he had already said, and was not so great an anomaly as he had already sanctioned; for if the Constitution guarantees this property in every State,—if the States do not reserve the power to interfere with it,—if, in case of escape, Congress has the power to reclaim it,—why is not the owner to be guaranteed it in the States as well as in the Territories?
In looking across this long judicial Sahara of twenty-seven years, there is but one oasis. In the Amistad case, the Court did declare that Cinque and the rest, who had been kidnapped, had the right to regain their natural liberty, even at the cost of the lives of those who held them in bondage; and for once the Court, speaking by Story, did appeal to the laws of nature and of nations, and decide the case "upon the eternal principles of justice." But all else is, in the light of this question of Slavery, by which this age will be remembered and judged, a dreary, barren waste of shifting, blinding, stifling sand.
History will tell whether America is to be judged by the words spoken by him who so long held the highest seat in her courts. We do not think she has fallen to such a depth. He did not speak for her; but he did for himself.
By this record will the world judge Chief Justice Taney. His great familiarity with the special practice; his knowledge of the peculiar jurisdiction of his tribunals; his acquaintance with the doctrines and decisions of the common law, with equity and admiralty; his opinions on corporate and municipal powers and rights, on land claims, State boundaries, the Gaines case, the Girard will, on corporations; his decisions on patent-rights and on copyrights; his opinions extending admiralty jurisdiction to inner waters, on liability of public officers, and rights of State or national taxation, on the liquor and passenger laws, on State insolvent laws, on commercial questions, on belligerent rights, and on the organization of States,—after doing service for the day in the mechanical branch of his craft, will soon be all forgotten. But the slavocrats' revolution of the last two generations, and the Secession war, and the triumph of Liberty, will be the theme of the world; and he, of all who precipitated them, will be most likely, after the traitor leaders, to be held in infamous remembrance; for he did more than any other individual,—more than any President, if not more than all,—more in one hour than the Legislature in thirty years,—to extend the Slave Power. Indeed, he had solemnly decided all and more than all that President Buchanan, closing his long political life of servility in imbecility, in December, 1860, asked to have adopted as an "explanatory amendment" of the Constitution, to fully satisfy the Slave Power. Well would it have been for that Power, for a while at least, had its members recollected that "no tyranny is so secure, none so remediless, as that of executive courts"; well for them,—if it is better to rule in hell than serve in heaven,—but worse for the world, had they been patient. But the dose of poison was too great. Nature relieved itself. War came, not the ruin, but the only salvation, of the state.
The movements of events have been so rapid, the work of generations being done in as many years, that Taney's character is already historic; and we can judge of it by his relation to the great event which alone will preserve it from oblivion.
In judging his public character as the head of the Judiciary of America, consider the cause he sought to promote, his motives, the means he used, his resources as a jurist and a lawyer in that cause, the intended effect and actual results.
And of the cause this must be said and agreed by all, that there was never one of which a court could take cognizance in America, England, or the world so utterly evil and infamous as that of Slavery in the United States. Did he realize its extent? Yes, there were "few freedmen compared with the slaves," say only sixty thousand out of seven hundred thousand in 1789. He fully realized that, in repudiating the promise made for those seven hundred thousand, a pledge made with the most solemn appeal to man and to God, he utterly destroyed the rights and hopes of four million men. He knew he was deciding, for a vast empire, weal or woe; and he knew it was woe, or he had no sense of justice.
And his motives? He was not venal, not corrupt, not a respecter of persons. But there is something bad besides venality, corruption, and personal partiality. The worst of motives is disposition to serve the cause of evil. The country knows, the world will declare, none served it so well. But was he conscious of serving it? Yes,—unless the traitors so eagerly sought to put all these interests under his jurisdiction without motive,—unless his eager and unnecessary, and, as was declared and is now agreed, assumed jurisdiction over it, his "far-seeing" care and untiring defence of them, their appeal to his decisions, were all mistakes,—unless all these, and his manner, their motives, and the assured results, coincided so as by the law of chances was impossible,—he was conscious. To deny it is to say that he was imbued with the spirit of evil.
The world knows by what means he assumed to settle these questions. We have seen something of the nature of his arguments. With these, too, men are somewhat familiar, and by these let them judge of him as a jurist.
There is not in them all one faint recognition of the axioms of law,—one position founded on the laws of nature or the rules of eternal justice and the right,—one notice of the great primal rules laid down by all jurists and great judges of ancient and modern times, or of the precepts of religion by which any magistrate in a Christian land must expect to be governed, or to be held infamous forever. Nay, more: he does not recognize at all those fundamental principles of the Constitution and Declaration which are stated in plain terms in the first lines of both. He did worse than torture and pervert language: he reversed its meaning. He denied the undoubted facts of history. He denied the settled truths of science. He slandered the memory of the founders of the government and framers of the Declaration. He was ready to cover the most glorious page of the history of his country with infamy, and insulted the intelligence and virtue of the civilized world.
Where, outside his "axiom in morals and politics" can be found so monstrous a combination of ignorance, injustice, falsehood, and impiety? Ignorant of the meaning of an "axiom"; denying the truths of science; falsifying history; setting above the Constitution the most odious theory of tyranny, long before exploded; scoffing at the rules of justice and sentiments of humanity,—he tied in a knot those cords which must end the life of his country or be burst in revolution.
He well knew, too, what would be the effects of his decision. Avowedly he was ready to lay the time-honored principles of civil right and the ancient law at the feet of the Slave Power. The passions of a mighty people never raged more fiercely than whilst that last cause was before his court,—save in open war; and there was almost war then. He well-knew nothing would so force them to desperation,—the desperation of unlicensed barbarism or the immovable determination of truth and justice driven to the wall. He knew, or if he did not, was so ignorant that he was incompetent, that in such a contest on such fundamental principles, such a decision must end in revolution and civil war. If he dreamed of peace, then he was ready to seal the doom of four million, and at the end of this century of ten million souls.
In all these decisions he appeals to no one great principle. There is little in all his judgments to raise him above the rank of respectable jurists; and in these, presenting the fairest occasion ever offered to a true lawyer, to one fit to be called an American, nothing that will not cover his name with infamy, where, on far lesser occasions, Hale and Holt, Somers and Mansfield, covered theirs with honor, and added to the glory of their country, and did good to mankind.
He was not, indeed, of that class of the bad to which the profane Jeffreys and Scroggs and the obscene Kelyng belong. But he was as prone to the wrong as was Chief Justice Fleming in sustaining impositions, and Chancellor Ellesmere in supporting benevolences for King James; as ready to do it as Hyde and Heath were to legalize "general warrants" "by expositions of the law"; as Finch and Jones, Brampton and Coventry, were to legalize "ship-money" for King Charles; as swift as Dudley was under Andros; as Bernard and Hutchinson and Oliver were in Colonial times to serve King George III.; as judges have been in later times to do like evil work. Some of these, perhaps, had no conscious intent to do specific wrong. Their failure was judicial blindness; their sin, unconscious love of evil. But this question of Slavery towers above all others that Taney ever had to consider; America professed a loftier standard of justice than England ever adopted; the question of the liberty of a race is more important, the question whether the State is founded on might or on right is more vital, than those of warrants and ship-money, benevolences and loans; and Roger Brooke Taney sinks below all these tools of Tyranny.
Hobbes said, that, "when it should be thought contrary to the interest of men that have dominion that the three angles of a triangle should equal two right angles, that truth would be suppressed." Taney did deny truths far plainer than that,—the axioms of right itself. He did more than any other man to make actual that awful picture of the Great Leviathan, the Mortal God. How just, how true, were those last symbols of the State founded on mortal power! The end of the dread conflict of battle is the same as the end of the equally dreadful issue of the Court.
But those he served themselves with the sword cut the knot he so securely tied; his own State was tearing off the poisoned robe in the very hour in which he was called before the Judge of all. America stood forth once more the same she was when the old man was a boy. The work which he had watched for years and generations, the work of evil to which all the art of man and the power of the State had been subservient, that work which he sought to finish with the fatal decree of his august bench, one cannon-shot shattered forever.
He is dead. Slavery is dying. The destiny of the country is in the hand of the Eternal Lord.
THE MANTLE OF ST. JOHN DE MATHA
A LEGEND OF "THE RED, WHITE, AND BLUE," A.D. 1154-1864
A strong and mighty Angel, Calm, terrible, and bright, The cross in blended red and blue Upon his mantle white!
Two captives by him kneeling, Each on his broken chain, Sang praise to God who raiseth The dead to life again!
Dropping his cross-wrought mantle, "Wear this," the Angel said; "Take thou, O Freedom's priest, its sign,— The white, the blue, and red."
Then rose up John de Matha In the strength the Lord Christ gave, And begged through all the land of France The ransom of the slave.
The gates of tower and castle Before him open flew, The drawbridge at his coming fell, The door-bolt backward drew.
For all men owned his errand, And paid his righteous tax; And the hearts of lord and peasant Were in his hands as wax.
At last, outbound from Tunis, His bark her anchor weighed, Freighted with seven score Christian souls Whose ransom he had paid.
But, torn by Paynim hatred, Her sails in tatters hung; And on the wild waves, rudderless, A shattered hulk she swung.
"God save us!" cried the captain, "For nought can man avail: Oh, woe betide the ship that lacks Her rudder and her sail!
"Behind us are the Moormen; At sea we sink or strand: There's death upon the water, There's death upon the land!"
Then up spake John de Matha: "God's errands never fail! Take thou the mantle which I wear, And make of it a sail."
They raised the cross-wrought mantle, The blue, the white, the red; And straight before the wind off-shore The ship of Freedom sped.
"God help us!" cried the seamen, "For vain is mortal skill: The good ship on a stormy sea Is drifting at its will."
Then up spake John de Matha: "My mariners, never fear! The Lord whose breath has filled her sail May well our vessel steer!"
So on through storm and darkness They drove for weary hours; And lo! the third gray morning shone On Ostia's friendly towers.
And on the walls the watchers The ship of mercy knew,— They knew far off its holy cross, The red, the white, and blue.
And the bells in all the steeples Rang out in glad accord, To welcome home to Christian soil The ransomed of the Lord.
So runs the ancient legend By bard and painter told; And lo! the cycle rounds again, The new is as the old!
With rudder foully broken, And sails by traitors torn, Our Country on a midnight sea Is waiting for the morn.
Before her, nameless terror; Behind, the pirate foe; The clouds are black above her, The sea is white below.
The hope of all who suffer, The dread of all who wrong; She drifts in darkness and in storm, How long, O Lord! how long?
But courage, O my mariners! Ye shall not suffer wreck, While up to God the freedman's prayers Are rising from your deck.
Is not your sail the banner Which God hath blest anew, The mantle that De Matha wore, The red, the white, the blue?
Its hues are all of heaven,— The red of sunset's dye, The whiteness of the moon-lit cloud, The blue of morning's sky.
Wait cheerily, then, O mariners, For daylight and for land; The breath of God is in your sail, Your rudder is His hand.
Sail on, sail on, deep-freighted With blessings and with hopes; The saints of old with shadowy hands Are pulling at your ropes.
Behind ye holy martyrs Uplift the palm and crown; Before ye unborn ages send Their benedictions down.
Take heart from John de Matha!— God's errands never fail! Sweep on through storm and darkness, The thunder and the hail!
Sail on! The morning cometh, The port ye yet shall win; And all the bells of God shall ring The good ship bravely in!
NEEDLE AND GARDEN.
THE STORY OF A SEAMSTRESS WHO LAID DOWN HER NEEDLE AND BECAME A STRAWBERRY-GIRL.
WRITTEN BY HERSELF.
All of us children were sent to the public school as soon as we were old enough. There was no urgency required to get us off in the morning, as we were too fond of books and reading to be found lagging as to time, neither were we often caught at the tail of a class. Fred was particularly smart in his studies, and was generally so much in advance of myself as to be able to give me great assistance in things that I did not fully understand, and there was so much affection between us that he was always ready to play the teacher to us at home.
When fifteen years old, I was taken from school,—my education was finished,—that is to say, I had received all I was to get, and that was supposed to be enough for me: I was not to shine in the world. Though far short of what the children of wealthy parents receive at fashionable establishments, yet it was quite sufficient for my station in life, which no one expected me to rise above. I had not studied either French or music or dancing, nor sported fine dresses or showy bonnets; for our whole bringing up was in keeping with our position. Was I not to be a sewing-girl?—and how improper it would have been to educate me with tastes which all the earnings of a sewing-girl would be unable to gratify! I presume, that, if we had had the means, notwithstanding our peculiarly strict training, we should have been indulged in some of these superfluities. I know that I could easily have learned to enjoy them quite as much as others do. But we were so taught at home that the desire for them was never so strong as to occasion grief because it could not be gratified. I think we were quite as happy without them.
As soon as I had left school, my mother installed me as her assistant seamstress. She had at intervals continued to work for the slop-shops, in spite of the low prices and the discourteous treatment she received; and now, when established as her regular helper, I saw and learned more of the trials inseparable from such an employment. I had also grown old enough to understand what they were, and how mortifying to an honorable self-respect. But I took to the needle with almost as great a liking—at least at the beginning—as to my books. The desire to assist my mother was also an absorbing one. I was as anxious to make good wages as she was; for I now consumed more stuff for dresses, as well as a more costly material, and in other ways increased the family expenses. It was the same with Fred and Jane,—they were growing older, and added to the general cost of housekeeping, but without being able to contribute anything toward meeting it.
A girl in my station in life feels an honorable ambition to clothe herself and pay for her board, as soon as she reaches eighteen years of age. This praiseworthy desire seems to prevail universally with those who have no portion to expect from parents, if their domestic training has been of the right character. It does not spring from exacting demands of either father or mother, but from a natural feeling of duty and propriety, and a commendable pride to be thus far independent. If able to earn money at any reputable employment, such girls eagerly embrace it. They pay their parents from their weekly wages as punctually as if boarding with a stranger, and it is to many of them a serious grief when dull times come on and prevent them from earning sufficient to continue these payments.
So unjustly low is the established scale of female wages, that girls of this class are rarely able to save anything. They earn from two to three dollars per week, and in thousands of cases not more than half of the larger sum. It is because of these extremely small wages that the price of board for a working-woman is established at so low a figure,—being graduated to her ability to pay. But low as the price may be, it consumes the chief part of her earnings, leaving her little to bestow on the apparel in which every American woman feels a proper pride in clothing herself. She must dress neatly at least, no matter how the doing so may stint her in respect of all bodily or mental recreation; for, with her, appearance is everything. A mean dress would in many places exclude her from employment,—while a neat one would insure it. Then, if working with other girls in factories, or binderies, or other places where girls are largely employed, and where even a fashionable style of dress is generally to be observed, she feels it necessary to maintain a style equal to that of her fellow-workers. Thus the tax imposed upon her by the absolute necessity of keeping up a genteel appearance absorbs all the remainder of her little earnings.
Not so with the servant-girl in a family. She pays no board-tax,—her earnings are all profit. But thus having more to spend on dress, she clothes herself in expensive fabrics, until she generally outshines even her mistress. So numerous is this class in our country, so high are their wages, and so uniformly do they spend their earnings in costly goods of foreign manufacture, all now paying an excessive import duty, that I am half inclined to think these foreign cooks and chambermaids may even be depended on to pay the interest of the public debt, if not the great bulk of the debt itself. Their consumption of imported fabrics on which a high duty is levied is very large, and no increase of price seems to prevent them from continuing to purchase. Whoever shall inquire of a shopkeeper on this subject will be told that this class of women generally buy the most expensive goods. Indeed, one has only to observe them in the street to see that they all have silks as essential to their outfit, with abundance of laces and other foreign stuffs.
The change from the low wages, the hard work, and the mean fare in Ireland to the high pay, the light work, and the abundant food of the kitchens in this country, seems to produce a total revolution in their habits and aspirations. Look at them as they land upon our wharves, all of them in the commonest attire, the very coarsest shoes, many without bonnets. Mark the contrast in their appearance which only a few months' employment as cooks or chambermaids produces. Every thread of the cheap home-made fabrics in which they came to this country has disappeared; and in place of them may be seen flashy silks or equally flashy chintzes or delaines, all the product of foreign looms. Every dollar they may have thus far earned has been spent in personal adornment. At home, extremely low wages and scanty employment made money comparatively unattainable. Here, high wages and an active competition for their services have put money into their hands so plenteously as to open to them a new life. They see that American women generally dress extravagantly; that even their own countrywomen whom they meet on their arrival here are expensively attired; and the power of these pernicious examples is such, that, when aided by that natural fondness for personal decoration which I freely confess to be inherent in my sex, they begin their new career by imitating them. At home, public example taught them to be saving of their money; here, it teaches no other lesson than to spend it. There, it came slowly and painfully, and was consequently valued; here, it comes readily and for the asking, and is parted with almost as quickly as it has been earned. I have never been the victim of this common infatuation, to spend my last dollar on a dress that would not become my station; I have been the architect of my own bonnets; I have never been the owner of a silken outfit.
The idea of this class of women being large enough to pay the interest on our public debt, in the shape of duties on the imported goods which they consume, will of course excite a smile in all to whom it is suggested. It will be a wonder, moreover, how the attention of a quiet sewing-girl like myself should have been drawn to a subject so exclusively within the domain of masculine thought. But all know that the nation has been feeling the pressure of a universal rise of prices. When any woman comes to buy the commonest article of dry goods for the family, she finds that foreign fabrics are generally much higher in price than goods of the same quality made in this country. On asking the reason for this difference, she is told it is owing to the tariff, to the greatly enhanced duty that has been put on foreign goods, and that those who buy and consume them must pay this duty in the shape of an increase of price. I have resolutely refused to purchase the imported goods, and preferred those made at home, thus unconsciously becoming a member of the woman's league for the support of domestic manufactures.
But it is not so with the army of foreign servant-girls among us. They choose the finest and most expensive articles, loaded as they are with a heavy duty. There are millions of American women who purchase in the same way. This craving after foreign luxuries seems to be unconquerable by anything short of absolute inability to indulge in it. But I suppose there must always be somebody to purchase and consume these imported goods. And perhaps, after all, it is well that there should be; for if the nation is to pay a great sum every year for interest out of its import duties, it could hardly raise the means, unless there were an army of thoughtless American women and Irish servant-girls to help it do so. If they are willing to undertake the task, I am sure they have my consent.
If the reader should be surprised at the idea of the interest on the public debt being paid from the extravagance of one class of women, he will be more so at the assertion made by a speaker in the highest deliberative body in the country, that another class would be able to pay the debt itself. He said our dairy-women alone were able to do it,—that in ten years they would churn it out,—because within that short period they would produce butter enough to discharge the whole amount. This may be all true; for how should I know the number of cows in this country, or the disposition of the dairy-maids? But I presume he had not consulted them as to whether they were willing to milk cows and churn butter for a term of ten years for the sole benefit of the nation. I am inclined to think they would make no such patriotic sacrifice, except on compulsion. But with tawdry servant-girls and equally tawdry ladies, the case is widely different; the latter pursue their great task voluntarily; indeed, it would seem that they rather enjoy it; so that the more one reflects on the idea, the less absurd does it appear.
It is very certain that the Irish who come among us have for many years been sending home millions of dollars to pay the passage hither of friends whom they had left behind. When these friends arrive here, and have earned money enough, they repeat the process of sending for others whom they in turn have left. The most limited inquiry will show how universal this system of thus helping one another has become. Thus the stream of remittances swells annually. The millions of money so transmitted proves the ability of this class to achieve great pecuniary results in a certain direction. That they thus exert themselves is strong evidence of the intense affection existing among them. There are innumerable instances of the father of a large family of children coming out as a pioneer, then sending for the most useful child, and their joint savings being devoted to sending for others, until finally the amount becomes large enough to bring the mother with the younger children,—the latter being meanwhile generally supported at home from savings remitted with affectionate punctuality from this country, until the happy day when they, too, receive the order for a passage. Many times the entire family of a widowed mother, with the mother herself, has been thus transferred to our shores from the savings of the son or daughter who first ventured over. I refer to this remarkable trait in the Irish character, not to censure, but to praise.
But they remit only a fraction of their total earnings, yet that fraction constitutes a very large sum. The remainder, which so many of them spend principally in dress, must be enormous. I have neither the taste nor the talent for reducing it to figures; but the more one looks at this question, the more reasonable does the idea seem that the Irish servant-girls, together with the flash women of this country, have deliberately undertaken to pay the interest on our great national debt.
How much it costs to clothe one of these gaudy creatures I cannot say; but the silks and finery worn by them are known to every shopkeeper as expensive articles. As I have never been able to indulge in such, I have been content to admire them as they flirted by me in the street, or swept up the aisles of our church on Sunday. It is so natural for a woman to admire ornament in dress, that I could not avoid being struck with the finish of an exquisite bonnet, the shape of a fashionable cloak, or the pattern of an elegant collar. All these were paraded through the streets and in the church, as much to my gratification as to that of the wearers. They felt a pride in making the display, and a pleasure in beholding it. I was like the poor lodger in the upper story of an old house, the windows of which overlooked a magnificent garden. The wealthy proprietor had lavished on his domain all that taste and art and money could command to make it gorgeous with shrubbery and flowers. The poor lodger, equally fond of floral beauties, beheld their glories, and inhaled their soft perfumes, as fully and as appreciatively as the owner. No emotion of envy disturbed her,—no longing to possess that of which she enjoyed gratuitously so abundant a share. Her mere oversight was all the possession she desired.
It was ever thus with me when the fine dresses of others swept by me over the pavement. I confess that I admired, but no repining thought ever came to disturb the perfect contentment with which I regarded my plainer costume. It was no grief to me to be unable to indulge in these luxuries. I saw them all, which was more than even the wearers could say. They wore them for the gratification of the crowd of lookers-on; and if the crowd were gratified, their mission was fulfilled. But I did sometimes think upon the cost of these expensive outfits,—how some girls equally poor with me must toil and struggle to obtain means for an indulgence so unbecoming their position,—how others, the wealthy ones, who, having never earned a dollar, knew nothing of its value, clothed themselves with all the lavish finery that money could command, while the meek sewing-girl who passed them on her way to the tailor's might perhaps be kept from starving by the sums expended on the rich silks which hung round them in superfluous flounces, or the costly brilliants which depended from their ears.
It was said by Solomon, that "every wise woman buildeth her house." It was averred by another wise man, that the mother of a family must furnish it with brains, and that he never knew a man or woman of large capacity who had a foolish mother. It is historically true that the great men of all ages have been the children of wise and careful mothers. Such women understand the art of skilfully managing the whole machinery of the family. Taste and manners come to such by nature. They cultivate the heart, the mind, and the conscience. They moderate the aspirations of their daughters, and purify and elevate those of their sons. It is from the influence which such mothers exercise over the household that respectability and happiness result. My mother taught us moderation in our views, and conformity to our position in life, especially to avoid overstepping it in the article of dress. She was at the very foundation of our house; it may be said that she built it. While, therefore, our appearance was uniformly neat and genteel, none of us were at any time dressed extravagantly. Thus educated from childhood, it became a fixed habit of the mind to feel no envious longings at the display which others made.
But curiosity could not be repressed. It was always interesting to know the cost of this or that fine article which others wore. There was little difficulty in obtaining this information as to the outfits of our neighbors. The fine lady invariably told her acquaintances how much her cloak or bonnet cost, and from these the information was communicated to the servants, whence it quickly radiated over the entire neighborhood. The pride seemed to be, not that the new bonnet was a superb affair, but that such a fashionable artist produced it, and that it cost so much money. Had it been equally beautiful at half the cost, or the handiwork of an obscure milliner, it would have been considered mean. Thus, instead of a necessity for being extravagant, it struck me there was a desire to be so, and principally in order that others, when they looked on the display, might be awed into deference, if not into admiration, by exact knowledge of the number of dollars which dangled from the shoulders of the fashionable butterfly. This boastful parade of information as to how much one expends in this or that article implies an undertone of vulgarity peculiar to those who have nothing but money to be proud of. The cultivated and truly genteel mind is never guilty of it. Yet it somehow prevails too extensively among American women. Display is a sort of mania with too many of them. A family in moderate circumstances marries off a daughter with a portion of only two or three thousand dollars, yet it is all laid out in furnishing a house which is twice as spacious as a first start in life can possibly require. Not a dollar is saved for the future. The wedding also has its shams. Costly silver plate is hired in large quantities from the manufacturer, and spread ostentatiously over tables, to which the wedding-guests are invited, that they may admire the pretended presents thus insincerely represented as having been made to the bride. When the feast is over, it is all returned to the maker. Truth is sacrificed to display. The latter must be had, no matter what may become of the former.
As I was animated by the common ambition of all properly educated girls in my position, to pay my own way, so I worked with my needle with the utmost assiduity. I worked constantly on such garments as my mother could obtain from the shops, going with her to secure them, as well as to deliver such as we had made up, each of us very frequently carrying a heavy bundle to and fro. Should the tailor sell the cheapest article in his shop, scarcely weighing a pound, he was all courtesy to the buyer, and his messenger would be despatched half over the city to deliver it. Not so, however, with the sewing-women. There was no messenger to wait on them; their heavy bundles they must carry for themselves.
The prices paid to us were always low. As the character of the work varied, so did the price. Sometimes we brought home shirts to make up at only twenty cents apiece, sometimes pantaloons at a trifle more, and sometimes vests at a shilling. No fine lady knows how many thousand stitches are required to make up one of these garments, because she has never thus employed her fingers. But I know, because I have often sat a whole day and far into the night, in making a single shirt. No matter how sick one might feel, or how sultry and relaxing the weather, the work must go on; for it must be delivered within a specified time. I have seen the most heartless advertisements in the newspapers, calling on some one, giving even her name and the place of her residence, to return to the tailor certain articles she had taken to make up, with a threat to prosecute her, if they were not returned immediately. But the poor sewing-girl thus publicly traduced as a thief may have been taken ill, and been thus disabled from completing her task; she may have lived a great distance from the shop, and had no one to send with notice of her illness, so as to account for the non-delivery of the work; yet in her helplessness the stigma of dishonesty has been cruelly cast upon her.
One of my schoolmates, the eldest child of a widow who had five others to provide for, had just begun working for a shop situated a full mile from her mother's residence. She was a bright, lively, and highly sensitive girl of sixteen. The day after bringing home a heavy bundle of coarse pantaloons, she was taken down with brain-fever. It was believed that she had been overcome by the effort required of her young and fragile frame in carrying the great burden under a hot noonday sun. She languished for days, but with intervals of consciousness, during which her inability to finish the work at the stipulated time was her constant anxiety. Her mother soothed her apprehension by assurances that a delay of a few days in the delivery could be of no consequence; and so believing, in fact, she sent no message to the tailor that her child was ill and unable to complete her task. A week of suffering thus passed. Saturday came and went without the work being delivered to her employer. But the poor girl was better, even convalescent; another week would probably enable her to resume the needle. On Sunday I went to see her. She was quiet, and in her right mind, but still anxious about her failure to be punctual.
I volunteered to call the next morning and inform the employer of her illness. I did so. He was in a mean shop, whose whole contents had been displayed in thick festoons, of jackets, shirts, and pantaloons, on the outside, where a man was pacing to and fro upon the pavement, whose vocation it was to accost and convert into a purchaser every passer-by who chanced even to look, at his goods. I was most unfavorably impressed with all that I saw about the shop. When I went in, the impression deepened. There sat the proprietor in his shirt-sleeves, a vulgar-looking creature, smoking a cigar; neither did he rise or cease to puff when I accosted him. Why should he? I was only a sewing-girl. I told him my business,—that my friend had been ill and unable to complete her work, but that she was now recovering, and would return it before many days. Putting on a sneer so sinister and vicious that it was long before I ceased to carry it in my memory, he replied,—
"It's of no consequence,—I've seen to it. She's too late."
Though the man's manner was offensive, yet I attached no particular meaning to his words. But on reaching home, my mother showed me an advertisement in a widely circulated penny-paper which we took, warning the poor sick sewing-girl to return her work immediately, on pain of being prosecuted. There was her name in full, and the number of the house in the little court where she lived. My mother was almost in tears over the announcement. We knew the family well; they were extremely poor, had been greatly afflicted by sickness, while the mother was a model of patient industry, with so deep a sense of religious obligation that nothing but her perfect reliance on the wisdom and goodness of God could have supported her through all her multiplied afflictions. Her husband had been for years a miserable drunkard, as well as dreadfully abusive of his wife and family. The daughter had sat next to me at school, to and from which we had been in the daily habit of going together. I had a strong affection for her. It was natural that I should be overwhelmed with indignation at the man who had perpetrated this wanton outrage, and excited with alarm for my poor friend, should she be made acquainted with it. All day I was in an agony of apprehension for her. It was impossible for me to go to her, as she lived a great way off, and we, too, had work on our hands which was pressingly required at the end of the week.
But that evening I stole off to see her. I had no sooner set foot within the narrow court than it was apparent that something had gone wrong. There was a group of neighbors gathered round the door, conversing in a subdued tone, as if overtaken by a common calamity. They told me that my poor young friend was dying! Some one, at the very hour when I was in the shop of the unfeeling tailor, excusing the delinquency of his sick sewing-girl, had incautiously gone up into her chamber with the morning paper, and, in the absence of her mother, had read to the unfortunate girl the terrible proclamation of her shame. The effect was immediate and violent. The fever on her brain came back with renewed intensity, and absolute madness supervened. All day she raved with agonizing incoherency, no medical skill availing to mitigate the violence of the attack. As evening came on, it brought exhaustion of strength, with indications of speedy dissolution. When I reached the bedside, the poor body lay calm and still; but the yet unconquered mind was breaking forth in occasional flashes of consciousness. Suddenly starting up and looking round the group at her bedside, she exclaimed,—
"A thief, mother! I am not a thief!"
Oh, this death-bed—the first that I had ever seen—was awful! But my nervous organization enabled me to witness it without trepidation or alarm. Love, sympathy, regret, and indignation were the only emotions that took possession of my heart. I even held in my own the now almost pulseless hand of this poor victim of a brutal persecution, and felt the lessening current of her innocent life become weaker and weaker. For three long hours—long indeed to me, but far longer to her—we watched and prayed. Suddenly the restlessness of immediate dissolution came over her. Turning to her mother, she again exclaimed, as if perfectly conscious,—
"Dear mother, tell them I was not a thief!"
Oh, it was grievous unto heart-breaking to see and hear all this! But it was the last effort, the last word, the closing scene. I felt the pulsation stop short; I looked into her face; I saw that respiration had ceased; I saw the lustre of the living eye suddenly disappear: her gentle spirit had burst the shackles which detained it here, and winged its flight, we humbly trusted, to a mansion of eternal rest.
Not until then did a single tear come to relieve me. We sat by the poor girl's bedside in weeping silence. No heavier heart went to its pillow that night than mine.
I have related this incident as an illustration of the hazards to which needle-women are exposed when dealing with the more unprincipled employers. I will not say that tragedies of this character are of frequent occurrence,—or that the provocation to them has not been too often given. There have no doubt been frequent instances of employers being defrauded by sewing-women who have dishonestly failed to return the work taken out, even giving to them a fictitious name and residence. In such cases, an effort to obtain redress by public exposure, the only apparent remedy, might seem excusable. But though the fraud is vexatious, yet, as the utmost that a sewing-girl could steal would be of small value, the resort to newspaper exposure seems to be a very harsh mode of obtaining restitution. It appears to me that vengeance, more than restitution, is the object of him who hastily adopts it. It may lead to sad and even fatal mistakes,—fatal to life itself, as well as to the purest reputation, the only capital which too many sewing-women possess.
My weekly earnings with the needle, while a girl, never reached a sum more than enough to board and clothe me. But I felt proud of being able to accomplish even what I did. When any little sum for recreation was wanted, it was cheerfully handed out to me, but our recreations were rare and cheap, for we selected those which were moderate and homely. My father taught me to work in the garden; and there I spent many odd hours in hoeing among the vegetables and flowers, clearing the beds of weeds, and raking the ground smooth and even. This employment was beneficial to health and appetite, and afforded an excellent opportunity for reflection. He taught me all the botanical names that he had picked up from the gentlemen for whom he worked, having acquired an amusing fondness for remembering and repeating them. I learned them all, because he desired me to do so, and because I saw it gratified him for me to take an interest in such things. I do not think this kind of knowledge did him much good; for he was unable to give reasons when I inquired for them.
But for the use of these sonorous designations for common things was a sort of conversational hobby with him. I cannot say that he was unduly proud of the little draughts of learning he had thus taken at the neighboring fountains, but rather that it became a sort of passion with him, yet regulated by a sincere desire to impart to his children all the knowledge he had himself acquired. There was great merriment among us when he first began to use some of these hard botanical names. He did so with the utmost gravity of countenance, which only increased our amusement. I remember one summer evening he told Fred, on leaving the supper-table, to go out and pull up a Phytolacca that was going to seed just over the garden-fence. Fred stopped in amazement at hearing so strange a word; and I confess that it bewildered even me. Then followed the very explanation which father had intended to give. He told us it was a poke-bush.
"Oh," said Fred, with a broad laugh, "is that all?"
But the word was forthwith written down, so as to impress it on our memories, and none of us have yet forgotten it. It was singular, moreover, how the imitative faculty gained strength among us. We children acquired the habit of speaking of all our garden-plants by such outlandish names as father then taught us,—not seriously, of course, but as a capital piece of fun. We knew no more of relations and affinities than he, and so used these names much as parrots repeat the chance phrases they sometimes learn; still, the faint glimmerings of knowledge thus early shed upon our minds came back to us in after life, and, explained and illustrated by study and observation, now serve as positive lights to the understanding.
I thus learned a great deal by working in the garden, and at the same time became extremely fond of it, taking the utmost delight in planting the seeds and watching the growth of even a cabbage-head, as well as in keeping the ground clear of interloping weeds. I even learned to combine the useful with the beautiful, which some have declared to be the highest phase of art. Fred did all the digging, and in dry times was very ready to water whatever might be suffering from drought.
My mother encouraged these labors as aids to health. The time they occupied could be spared from the needle, as the garden required attention but a few months, and only occasionally even then, while the needle could be employed the whole year round. Besides, the family earnings were not all absorbed by our weekly expenses. We had no rent to pay, and there was nothing laid out in improvements. Hence a small portion of father's earnings was carefully laid by every week,—not enough to make us rich, but still sufficient to prevent us, if continued, from ever becoming poor.
While thus industriously working with the needle, we began to feel the effect on female labor which the introduction of sewing-machines had occasioned. The prices given by the tailors were not only becoming less and less, but our employers were continually more exacting as to the quality of the work, and evidently more independent of us. In very busy seasons, when they really needed all the clothing we could make up, they were courteous enough, because they were then unable to do without us. But the introduction of sewing-machines seemed to revolutionize their behavior. As every movement of the machine was exactly like every other, so there was an astonishing uniformity in the work it performed; and if it made the first stitch neatly, all the succeeding ones must be equally neat. Hence the beautiful regularity of the work it turned out. It looked nicer than any we could do by hand, though in reality not more substantial. Its amazing rapidity of execution was another element of superiority, against which, it was believed, no sewing-woman could successfully contend.
Heretofore, I had noticed that our employers had, on numerous occasions, set up the most frivolous pretexts for reducing our wages. In all my experience they never once advanced them, even when crowding us so hard as to compel us to sew half the night. The standing cry was that we must work for less, but there was never a lisp of giving us more. At one time the reason was—for reasons were plenty enough—that the merchant had advanced the prices of his cloths; at another, that a new tariff had enhanced the cost of goods; at another, that the men in their employ had struck for higher wages. Generally, the reason alleged for the new imposition on us was foolish and unsatisfactory, and to most women, who knew so little of merchandise and tariffs, quite incomprehensible. The whole drift was, that, as others laid it on the tailors, the latter must lay it on the sewing-women. But all the reasons thus set before us I turned over in my mind, and thought a great deal about. I never had the uncomplaining timidity of my mother, when dealing with these men,—and so, on more than one occasion, was bold enough to speak out for our rights. It struck me, from the various pretexts set up for cutting down our scanty wages, that they were untrue, and had been trumped up for the sole purpose of cheapening our work. Some of them were so transparently false that I wondered how any one could have the impudence to present them. Those who did so must have considered a sewing-woman as either too dull to detect the fallacy, or too timid to expose and resent it.
We had on one occasion just begun sewing for a tailor who was considered to be of the better class,—that is, one who kept a shop in a fashionable street, and sold a finer and better description of goods than were to be found in the slop-shops,—and while making up a dozen fine vests, were congratulating ourselves on having advanced a step in our profession. The man was very civil to us, and had justly acquired the reputation, among the sewing-women, of dealing fairly and courteously with those he employed. When our first dozen vests were done, we took them in. There was a decided commendation as to the excellence of the work,—it was entirely satisfactory,—the price was paid,—but if we wanted more, he would have to pay us so much less. This was at the very beginning of the season, when such vests would be in demand. Had it been at the close, when sales were dull and little work needed, I could have understood why a reduction was demanded, or why no more vests were to be given out; but now I could not, and felt mortified and indignant.
My mother said nothing. On such occasions she invariably submitted to the imposition without remonstrance. It is the misfortune of most sewing-women to be obliged to bear these hard exactions in silence. Continued employment is with them so great a necessity as to compel them to do so. But not feeling this urgency myself, and being now grown a little older, and no doubt a little bolder, I ventured to address the tailor in reply.
"Why do you ask us to take less for our work, Sir?"
"Goods have gone up, Miss," he responded. "The importers charge us twenty per cent more."
"Do you require them to take less, as you do us?"
"Oh," said he, "they're very independent. We may buy or not, they say, just as we please. Everybody wants these goods,—they are very scarce in the market, and we must pay the advance or go without them."
"Then," I added, "if the goods are so scarce and desirable, the vests made of them ought to be equally so, and thus command a corresponding advance from the consumer."
"Certainly," he quickly replied, "we put the advanced cost on the buyer."
"Then the same reason holds good to make him pay more and us to take less," I replied, with an impetuosity of tone and manner that I could not resist, "If you get the advance out of him, why do you take it off of us?"
I saw that my mother was growing restless and uneasy, but I continued,—
"Do you consider the reason you have given for reducing our scanty wages to be either just or generous? You require us to sit up half the night to get this work done, that you may supply customers who, by your own statement, will pay you as good a profit on our next week's work as you get on that which we have just delivered. You advance your own prices, but cut down ours. By the money paid us you see that we have made only four dollars in the week, and now you ask us to work for three. Can two women live on three dollars a week? You might"——
I was so fully under way, that there is no knowing what more I might have said, had not my mother stopped me short. But my indignation was roused, and I was about to begin again, when the tailor interposed by saying,—
"Do as you please, Miss,—that's my price,—and yours too, or not, just as you choose."
Just then the man's wife came into the shop, and called off his attention from us. I noticed that she was dressed in the extreme of the fashion. There were silks, and laces, and jewelry in abundance, the profits of the unrequited toil of many poor sewing-women. I told my mother we would take no more vests from this shop, and would look for a new employer, and started to go out. But she, being less excitable, lingered, asked for a second bundle, and came out with it on her arm. I carried it home, but it weighed heavily on my hands. We made up the vests, but the otherwise pleasant labor of my needle was embittered by the reflection of how great a wrong had been done to us. The sting of this imposition continued to rankle in my heart so long as we were the bondwomen of this particular man.
This persistent tendency to a reduction of wages acquired new strength from the introduction of sewing-machines. As they came gradually into general use, we found the cry raised in all the shops that machine-work was so much better than hand-work, that nothing but the former was wanted,—customers would have no other. I am satisfied that this also was to some extent a mere pretext to accomplish a fresh reduction of prices. The work may really have been better done, yet, notwithstanding that fact, we were told the shops would continue to employ us at hand-work, if we would do it at the same rate with the machine-work. It was thus evident that it was not a question as to the quality of the sewing, but simply one of price. Machinery had been made to compete with muscle, and we were fairly in a dilemma which occasioned us an amount of uneasiness that was truly distressing.
I did not attempt to fly in the face of this state of things by argument or repining. I saw the result—at least I thought so—from the beginning. To satisfy my doubts, I first went to see the machines while in operation. How they could possibly overcome the mechanical perplexities of needle and thread I could not imagine; neither, when I saw them performing their work with such beautiful simplicity, could I clearly understand how it was done. But my curiosity was gratified, and my doubts resolved,—the great fact was made manifest. It struck me with a sort of dismay. My mother was with me on this occasion, and she was quite as much discouraged as myself, for her darling theory of the supremacy of the needle had been blown to the winds. She would be compelled to admit that hereafter the machine was to be paramount, and the seamstress comparatively obsolete.
It could not be denied that the machines were capable of doing work as beautifully as it could be done by needle-women. Then we were confounded by the amazing rapidity with which they made the stitches. We saw that it was vain to expect our slow fingers to compete with the lightning-like velocity attained by simply putting the foot upon a treadle. I have no doubt that thousands of sewing-girls, all over the country, were equally astonished and disheartened, when they came to be assured of the success of these machines. They must have seen, as we did, that prices would speedily go down. Indeed, all who were in immediate communication with the tailors became aware, at a very early day, of the downward tendency. I confess that no other result was to be expected, and that in this instance the call upon us was not entirely a pretext of the tailors, but a necessity forced upon them by a new agency suddenly introduced into their business, which they must immediately counteract or embrace, or else give up their occupation.
The first tailor who bought a dozen machines found no difficulty in having as many girls taught to operate them. The makers saw to it that no impediment to their sale should occur from girls of ordinary intelligence being unable to use them; so the first sewers were taught either by the inventors themselves or by the skilled mechanics who constructed the machines. As the girls learned quickly, so, when only a small number had become expert at using them, they served as teachers to others. Thus the operatives were multiplied almost as rapidly as the machines. It was quite as difficult, at the first introduction, to obtain the machines as it was to procure operators, so immediately was the invention recognized by a vast industrial interest as the forerunner of a complete revolution in all departments of sewing.
But, as already mentioned, the first tailor who bought machines was able to set them at work directly. As one machine would perform about as much in a day as ten women, the saving in the labor of the nine thus dispensed with enabled him to reduce the price of his manufactured goods to a figure so low that he could undersell all others in the trade. Cheapness being everywhere the cry, he who sold at the lowest rates was able to dispose of the most goods. It is not likely that he gave his customers the full benefit of all the saving made by discharging nine girls out of ten. This was large; for, while he saved their wages, he made little or no advance in those of the remaining girl, who now did on a machine as much work as the whole ten had previously done with their needles. The only difference to her was, that she dropped the needle, and employed a machine. She was, in either case, a mere sewing-girl; and if she made her two or three dollars a week, it was enough. She had never made more: why should she be permitted to do so now? It would have been altogether contrary to usage to permit such a hand to have any benefit from any general improvement or economy in the employer's great establishment. The men are frequently able to exact it, but the women never.
A tailor thus underselling all others, and yet making greater profits than ever, invited imitation and competition. All who were able to procure machines did so as fast as the inventors could supply the demand. This became so enormous and pressing that new manufactories were speedily established, and rival machines came into use by scores. Clothing-shops and other establishments went into operation with a hundred machines in each, throwing multitudes of sewing-women out of employment. Steam was called in to take the place of female fingers. The human, machine was suddenly discarded,—turned off, without notice or compunction, to seek other occupation, or to suffer for want of it.
No wonder that we should be dismayed when such a prospect as this was seen opening itself before us. Neither is it to be wondered at that prices broke down as the revolution progressed. I was confounded at the low rates to which wages fell. The price for making a shirt was reduced one half. Fine bosoms, crowded with plaits and full of seams, were made for a few cents per dozen. Even the mean slop-shop work was so poorly paid, that no woman, working full time, could earn much more than a dollar a week. If ill, or with a family of children to look after, her case was apparently hopeless. How all the sewing-women thus suddenly reduced to idleness were to gain a livelihood I could not comprehend. A cry of distress rose up from the toiling inmates of many a humble home around us. The privilege to toil had been suddenly withdrawn from them.
Even my mother, as I have said, began to wake up from the delusion under which she had hitherto labored, that the needle was a woman's best and surest dependence; for here was a revolution that had not entered into her imagination. Though not at any time impoverished or even straitened by it, yet she saw how others were; and it led her to think that women might be not only usefully employed at many new things, but that they ought to be qualified by education for even a variety of occupations, so that, when one staff gave way, another would remain to lean upon. I suggested that the reason why so many were at that time idle was, that all of them had been brought up to do the same thing,—to sew,—and that they did not seek employment in other pursuits because their industrial education had not been sufficiently diversified; they were not qualified, and consequently would not be employed.
A woman can become expert at the needle only by proper training through a regular apprenticeship. If necessary in that instance, it is equally so in all others. Every great city abounds in employments for which women are especially fitted, both mentally and physically; and they are shut out from them only for want of proper training, and the deplorable absence of available facilities for acquiring it. The boy is apprenticed, serves out his time, and secures remunerative wages. Why not give a similar training to his sister? If girls were properly instructed, they would be profitably employed. It has been so with the seamstress: why should it be otherwise in a different sphere?
At no time had we been in the habit of telling my father the particulars of our experience with the tailors. He heard only incidentally how little we earned, while our greatest grievances were rarely spoken of before him. The truth is, that he had a very poor opinion of the craft. I am sure, that, if he had known as much of them as we did, it would have been even more unfavorable. But here was an entirely new trouble to be met and overcome, requiring the utmost wisdom of the whole family to master it. As to our ceasing work, no one dreamed of that; the anxiety was, to be kept at it. Our consultations and discussions were consequently frequent and long. My father joined in these with great interest, but could suggest no remedy.
I had noticed that our penny paper was crowded with advertisements for girls who understood working on a sewing-machine; and I learned from several of my acquaintances that not only was the demand for such operatives unlimited, but that an expert hand was able to earn quite as much as with the needle formerly, while some were earning much more. It struck me that I had overlooked the important fact that all the sewing for the public was still to be done by women, even though machines had been invented on which to do it: in our first depression, we had innocently supposed that in future it was to be done by men. It was obvious, then, that our only course was to get machines,—one for my mother, and one for myself. I knew that I should learn quickly, and was sure that I could earn as much as any one else.
My mother entered heartily into the plan, as it held out to us the certainty of continued employment. We explained the case to my father, and he also approved of the project, and agreed to buy us a machine. He thought it better to begin with only one, to see whether we could understand it, and find a sale for our work, as well as how we liked it. Besides, when these machines were first made, the inventors exacted an exorbitant price for them,—they, too, in this way levying a cruel tax on the sewing-women. The cost at that time was from a hundred and twenty to a hundred and fifty dollars. My father could manage to provide us with one, but the expense of two was more than he could assume. I was then within a few weeks of being eighteen; and it was arranged that I should devote the intervening time to learning how to operate a machine, by attending one of the schools for beginners then opened by lady teachers, and that the new purchase should be my birthday present. So, paying ten dollars for instruction, and agreeing to work eight weeks without wages, I took my position, with more than a dozen others, as a learner at the sewing-machine.
NOTES OF A PIANIST.
There is a class of persons to whom art in general is but a fashionable luxury, and music in particular but an agreeable sound, an elegant superfluity serving to relieve the tedium of conversation at a soiree, and fill up the space between sorbets and supper. To such, any philosophical discussion on the aesthetics of art must seem as puerile an occupation as that of the fairy who spent her time weighing grains of dust with a spider's web. Artists, to whom, through a foreign prejudice which dates back to the barbarism of the Middle Ages, they persist in refusing any high place in the social scale, are to them only petty tradesmen dealing in suspicious wares (in most instances unshrewdly, since they rarely get rich, which aggravates their position); while what they call performers are looked upon by them as mere tricksters or jugglers, who profit by the dexterity of their fingers, as dancers and acrobats by the suppleness of their limbs. The painter whose works decorate their saloons figures in the budget of their expenses on a line with the upholsterer, whose hangings they speak of in the same breath with Church's "Heart of the Andes," and Rosa Bonheur's "Cattle Fair."