Chapter XV: Interchange of Opinion

The landing of a steamer on her downward trip, brought Judge Ballard and Major Armsted to Natchez. The Judge had come to examine the country, purchase a cotton farm, and complete the arrangements of an interest in the ' Merchantman.' Already the proprietor of a large estate in Cuba, he was desirous of possessing a Mississippi cotton place. Disappointed by the absence of his wife abroad, he was satisfied to know that her object was accomplished.
Major Armsted was a man of ripe intelligence, acquired by years of rigid experience and close observation, rather than literary culture; though his educational attainments as a business man, were quite respectable. He for years had been the partner in business with Colonel Stephen Franks. In Baltimore, Washington City, Annapolis, Richmond, Norfolk, Charlestown, and Winchester, Va., a prison or receptacle for Coffle Gangs of Slaves purchased and sold in the market, comprised their principal places of business in the slave growing states of the Union.
The major was a great jester, full of humor, and fond of a good joke, ever ready to give and take such even from a slave. A great common sense man, by strict attention to men and things, and general observation, had become a philosopher among his fellows.
' Quite happy to meet you Judge, in these parts !' greeted Franks ; ' wonder you could find your way so far south, especially at such a period, these being election times!'
5' Don't matter a bit, as he's not up for anything I believe just now, except for negro trading! and in that he is quite a proselyte, and heretic to the teachings of his northern faith!' jocosely remarked Armsted.
'Don't mistake me gentlmen, because it was the incident of my life to be born in a non-slaveholding state. I'm certain that I am not at all understood as I should be on this question !' earnestly replied the Judge.
' The North has rather given you a bad name Judge, and it's difficult to separate yourself now from it, holding the position that you do, as one of her ablest jurists,' said Armsted.
' Well gentlemen !' seriously replied the Judge ; ' as regards my opinion of negro slavery, the circumstances which brought me here, my large interest and responsibility in the slave-labor products of Cuba, should be I think sufficient evidence of my fidelity to southern principles, to say nothing of my official records, which modesty should forbid my reference to.'
'Certainly, certainly, Judge! The Colonel is at fault. He has lost sight of the fact that you it was, who seized the first runaway negro by the throat and held him by the compromise grasp, until we southern gentlemen sent for him and had him brought back !'
10' Good, good, by hookie!' replied the Colonel rubbing his hands together.
' I hope I'm understood gentlemen !' seriously remarked the Judge.
' I think so Judge, I think so !' replied Armsted, evidently designing a full commitment on the part of the Judge; 'and if not, a little explanation will set us right.'
' It is true that I have not before been engaged in the slave trade, because until recently I had conscientious scruples about the thing—and I suppose I'm allowed the right of conscience as well as other folks'—smilingly said the Judge ; 'never having purchased but for peopling my own plantation. But a little sober reflection set me right on that point. It is plain that the right to buy implies the right to hold, also to sell; and if there be right in the one, there is in the other; the premise being right the conclusion follows as a matter of course. I have therefore determined, not only to buy and hold, but buy and sell also. As I have heretofore been interested for the trade I will become interested in it.'
'Capital, capital, by George !—that's conclusive. Charles ! a pitcher of cool water here ; Judge, take another glass of brandy.'
15' Good, very good!' said Armsted ; ' so far, but there is such a thing as feeding out of two cribs—present company you know, and so—ahem !— therefore we should like to hear the Judge's opinion of equality, what it means anyhow. I'm anxious to learn some of the doctrines of human rights, not knowing how soon I may be called upon to practice them, as I may yet marry some little Yankee girl, full of her Puritan notions. And I'm told an old bachelor 'cant come it' up that way, except he has a ' pocket full of rocks,' and can talk philanthropy like old Wilberforce.'
' Here gentlemen, I beg to make an episode, before replying to major Armsted,' suggested the Judge. ' His jest concerning the Yankee girl, reminds me—and I hope is may not be amiss in saying so—that my lady is the daughter of a clergyman, brought up amidst the sand of New England, and I think I'll not have to go from the present company, to prove her a good slaveholder. So the major may see that we northerners are not all alike.'
' How about the Compromise measures Judge ? Stand up to the thing all through, and no flinching.'
' My opinion sir, is a matter of record, being the first judge, before whom a case was tested, which resulted in favor of the South. And I go farther than this ; I hold as a just construction of the law, that not only has the slaveholder a right to reclaim his slave when and wherever found, but by its provision every free black in the Country north and south, are liable to enslavement by any white person. They are freemen by sufferance or slaves at large, whom any white person may claim at discretion. It was a just decision of the Supreme Court—though I was in advance of it by action—that persons of African descent have no rights that white men are bound to respect!'
' Judge Ballard, with this explanation, I am satisfied ; indeed as a southern man I would say, that you've conceeded all that I could ask, and more than we expected. But this is a legal disquisition ; what is your private opinion respecting the justice of the measures ?'
20' I think them right sir, according to our system of government.'
' But how will you get away from your representative system Judge ? In this your blacks are either voters, or reckoned among the inhabitants.'
'Very well sir, they stand in the same relation as your negroes. In some of the states they are permitted to vote, but can't be voted for, and this leaves them without any political rights at all. Suffrage sir, is one thing, franchisement another; the one a mere privilege—a thing permitted—the other a right inherent, that which is inviolable—cannot be interfered with. And my good sir, enumeration is a national measure, for which we are not sectionally responsible.'
' Well Judge, I'm compelled to admit that you are a very good southerner, upon the whole, you are severe upon the negroes ; you seem to allow them no chance.'
' I like negroes well enough in their place!'
25' How can you reconcile yourself to the state of things in Cuba, where the blacks enter largely into the social system ?'
'I don't like it at all, and never could become reconciled to the state of things there. I consider that Colony as it now stands, a moral pestilence, a blighting curse, and it is useless to endeavour to disguise the fact: Cuba must cease to be a Spanish Colony, and become American Territory. Those mongrel Creoles are incapable of self-government, and should be compelled to submit to the United States.'
' Well Judge admit the latter part of that, as I rather guess we are all of the same way of thinking—how do you manage to get on with society when you are there ?'
' I cannot for a moment tolerate it! One of the hateful customs of the place is, that you must exchange civilities with whomsoever solicits it, consequently, the most stupid and ugly negro you meet in the street, may ask for a ' light' from your cigar.'
' I know it, and I invariably comply with the request. How do you act in such cases ?'
30' I invariably comply, but as invariably throw away my cigar ! If this were all, it would not be so bad, but then the idea of meeting negroes and mulattoes at the Levees of the Captain General is intolerable ! It will never do to permit this state of things so near our own shores.'
' Why throw away the cigar, Judge? What objection could there be to it, because a negro took a light from it ?'
' Because they are certain to take hold of it with their black fingers !'
'Just as I've always heard Judge Ballard. You northerners are a great deal more fastidious about negroes than we of the south, and you'll pardon me if I add, 'more nice than wise,' to use a homily. Did ever it occur to you that black fingers made that cigar, before it entered your white lips !—all tobacco preparations being worked by negro hands in Cuba—and very frequently in closing up the wrapper, they draw it through their lips to give it tenacity.'
' The deuce ! Is that a fact major !'
35' Does that surprise you Judge ? I'm sure the victuals you eat is cooked by black hands, the bread kneaded and made by black hands, and the sugar and molasses you use, all pass through black hands, or rather the hands of negroes pass through them, at least you could not refrain from thinking so, had you seen them as I have frequently, with arms full length immersed in molasses.'
' Well major, truly there are some things we are obliged to swallow, and I suppose these are among them.'
' Though a Judge, your honor, you perceive that there are some things you have not learned.'
' True major, true; and I like the negro well enough in his place, but there is a disposition peculiar to the race, to shove themselves into the notice of the whites.'
' Not peculiar to them Judge, but common to mankind. The black man desires association with the white, because the latter is regarded his superior. In the south it is the poor white man with the wealthy, and in Europe the common with the gentlefolks. In the north you have not made these distinctions among the whites, which prevents you from noticing this trait among youselves.'
40'Tell me major, as you seem so well to understand them, why a negro swells so soon into importance ?'
' Simply because he's just like you Judge, and I! It is simply a manifestation of human nature in an humble position, the same as that developed in the breast of a conqueror. Our strictures are not just on this unfortunate race, as we condemn in them, that which we approve in ourselves. Southerner as I am, I can joke with a slave just because he is a man ; some of them indeed, fine warm hearted fellows, and intelligent, as was the Colonel's Henry.'
' I can't swallow that major ! Joking with a negro, is rather too large a dose for me!'
' Let me give you an idea of my feeling about these things: I have on my place two good natured black fellows, full of pranks and jokes—Bob and Jef. Passing along one morning Jef was approaching me, when just as we met and I was about to give him the time of day, he made a sudden halt, placing himself in the attitude of a pugilist, grasping the muscle of his left arm, looking me full in the eyes exclaimed : ' Maus Army, my arm aches for you !' when stepping aside he gave the path for me to pass by.'
' Did you not rebuke him for the impudence ?'
45' I laid my hand upon his shoulders as we passed, and gave him a laugh instead. At another time, passing along in company, Bob was righting up a section of fence, when Jef came along. ' How is yeh, Jef ?' saluted Bob, without a response. Supposing he had not seen me, I halloed out: ' How are you Jef! but to this, he made no reply. A gentleman in company with me who enjoyed the joke, said : 'Why Jef, you appear to be above speaking to your old friends !' Throwing his head slightly down with a rocking motion in his walk, elongating his mouth after the manner of a sausage—which by the way needed no improvement in that direction—in a tone of importance ; still looking down he exclaimed, ' I totes a meat!' He had indeed, a fine gammon on his shoulder from which that evening, he doubtless intended a good supper with his wife, which made him feel important, just as Judge Ballard feels, when he receives the news that' sugar is up,' and contemplates large profits from his crop of that season.'
' I'll be plagued, major, if your love of the ludicrous dont induce you to give the freest possible license to your negroes! I wonder they respect you!'
'One thing Judge, I have learned by my intercourse with men, that pleasantry is the life and soul of the social system; and good treatment begets more labor from the slave than bad.
A smile from the master, is better than cross looks, and one crack of a joke with him, is worth a hundred cracks of the whip. Only confide in him, and let him be satisfied that you respect him as a man, he'll work himself to death to prove his worthiness.'
' After all major, you still hold them as slaves, though you claim for them the common rights of other people !'
50' Certainly ! and I would just as readily hold a white as a black in slavery, were it the custom and policy of the country to do so. It is all a matter of self interest with me; and though I am morally opposed to slavery, yet while the thing exists, I may as well profit by it, as others.'
' Well major,' concluded the Judge; 'let us drop the subject, and I hope that the free interchange of opinion, will prove no detriment to our future prospects and continued friendship.'
' Not at all sir, not at all!' concluded the major with a smile.
To Chapter XVI

Textual Notes

3major] 59; Major 61
3good] 59; not in 61
3observation,] 59; he had becom 61
6gentlmen] 59; gentlemen 61
13premise] 59; premises 61
13for] 59; for 61
13in] 59; in 61
15means] 59; means, anyhow. 61
15cant] 59; can't 61
16major] 59; Major 61
16,] 59; not in 61
16is] 59; it 61
16sand] 59; sand-hills 61
16major] 59; Major 61
18opinion] 59; 'My opinion, sir, 61
18Country] 59; country 61
19conceeded] 59; conceded 61
22well] 59; 'Very well, sir, 61
22franchisement] 59; franchisemont 61
27admit] 59; , admitting 61
29cases] 59; a case 61
34major] 59; Major 61
35?] 59; ?' 61
35,] 59; ; 61
36major] 59; Major 61
38major] 59; Major 61
38,] 59; not in 61
39youselves] 59; yourselves 61
40major] 59; Major 61
41conqueror] 59; conquerer 61
41warm hearted] 59; warm-hearted 61
41,] 59; not in 61
42major] 59; Major 61
43:] 59; ; 61
43good natured] 59; good-natured 61
43Jef] 59; Jeff 61
43for] 59; to 61
45halloed] 59; hallooed 61
45!] 59; !' 61
45exclaimed,] 59; exclaimed, I 'totes 61
45I] 59; not in 61
45,] 59; not in 61
46major] 59; Major 61
49major] 59; not in 61
49major,] 59; r all, Major, you stil 61
49!'] 59; .' 61
51major] 59; Major 61
52major] 59; Major 61