Secession Era Editorials Project

Furman University Department of History


The Patriarchal Tenure.

Chicago, Illinois, Press and Tribune [Republican]

(26 October 1859)

Gov. Wise made a speech in Richmond, on Saturday last. Among other things he is reported as having said: "This Kansas ruffian (Brown) made a great mistake as to the disposition of the slaves to fly to his standard. The Abolitionists cannot comprehend that they are held among us by a patriarchal tenure."

This reminds us of the boy who whistled in passing through the grave-yard, to keep his courage up. The Slaveholders have even less confidence in the "patriarchal tenure" than the "Abolitionists." Probably no man in all Virginia was more scared lest the "patriarchal tenure" would give way, than the valorous and windy Wise. If the slaves are so attached to their masters by bonds of love and devotion, that no Abolition sympathies can shake their affection or weaken their allegiance, why in the name of common sense, are their masters eternally in dread of servile insurrections? Why is the South filled with white patrols? Why does every slave-holder go armed to the teeth; and why in his house an arsenal of deadly weapons of defense? Why does the rustle of every bush send a thrill through him? Why are the blacks watched so closely and suspiciously? Why have the slave breeders so little confidence in the patriarchal tenure? If Gov. Wise is to be believed, how came the whole State of Virginia to be panic-stricken and himself thrown into hysterics of fright upon the news of the wretched .emute at Harper's Ferry? Crazy Brown and his sixteen lunatics were magnified into 700 "slaves who had risen against their masters!" And there was not a slaveholder in all the South but felt a dread least his own slaves would also strike for their liberty. The "patriarchal tenure" may answer as a rhetorical flourish to round off a grandiloquent period; but the slaveholders feel in their inmost hearts that it is weaker than a rope of sand. Their trust is reposed, not in the attachment of the slaves to their bondage, but in the efficacy of rifles and revolvers, and in Northern bayonets and sabres. It is part of the lesson impressed upon the minds of the slaves, that should they attempt to sever their bonds, the mighty North would come down on them like an avalanche and crush them.

Governor Wise and his fellow slave breeders place infinitely more reliance upon the strong arm of Federal power and Northern regiments than on their patriarchal tenure, to quell a similar insurrection. In proof of this need we other evidence than their own late conduct? When it was supposed that the "niggers" were getting loose at Harper's Ferry, their first act was to rush to Uncle Sam and implore him to fly to the rescue of the patriarchs! The love of the slave for his chains is a huge, unnatural lie, and the daily lives of the whole slave-holding fraternity bear continual testimony against the assumption.

Thomas Jefferson, himself a Virginian, declared that "the whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submission on the other. I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just -- that his justice cannot sleep forever." What a comment upon the patriarchal system! The Harper Ferry slaves saw the mad folly of making the attempt to regain their liberty, and had the sense and prudence to remain quiet, and refuse to run into the jaws of certain destruction. This is the extent of the patriarchal tenure, and no more.

But suppose a war should break out between this country and Great Britain, how much reverence or affection would the slaves of Virginia or any other slave State exhibit for the patriarchal institution? Let them hear that an army of Canadian fugitives and West India free colored soldiers had landed at Norfolk, Charleston, Mobile or Savannah, and proclaimed freedom, and offered them arms to achieve it, how many of the four millions of slaves would decline the opportunity, or refuse to obey the summons to strike and be free? We confess this is an ugly view of the patriarchal institution, but it is one that no patriot dare ignore. Democratic demagogues may stun the country with their clamors and revenge against the Republicans, but that will not ward off the terrible consequences to the South, of a war with Great Britain. So long as the United States keeps clear of a collision with the mother country, and Heaven grant it, may be forever, the peculiar institution may escape a disastrous termination.

If a supposed insurrection in the sparse slave population of Northern Virginia throws the whole South into consternation, what kind of security will that section enjoy when thousands of ship loads of the same incendiary material have been brought from Africa, filling up the southern States? We appeal to the conservative men of the country to say which is the safest and best policy: the Democratic, which is striving to multiply and expand this volcanic element, or the Republican which seeks to limit and circumscribe it, and place it on the way of ultimate extinction.

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