The Emancipation of the
Negroes, January, 1863 - The Past and the Future
| This week we publish, on pages 56 and 57,
another double-page drawing by Thomas Nast, the subject of which is the great event of the day --
In the centre of the picture is a negro's free and happy home. Here domestic peace and comfort
reign supreme, the reward of faithful labor, undertaken with the blissful knowledge that at last its
benefit belongs to the laborer only, and that all his honest earnings are to be appropriated as he may
see fit to the object he has most at heart -- his children's advancement and education.
On the wall hangs a portrait of President Lincoln, whom the family can not sufficiently admire
and revere. They regard him with feelings akin to veneration, and in each heart there is honest
love and gratitude for him. Near this is a banjo, their favorite musical instrument, a source of
never-ending enjoyment and recreation.
At the top of the picture the Goddess of Liberty appropriately figures. The slaves have often heard
of her before, but have rather regarded her as a myth. Underneath is old Father Time, holding a
little child (the New Year), who is striking off the chains of the bondman and setting him at liberty
On the left are incidents of everyday occurrence in slave life; and, in happy contrast, on the right
we see some of the inevitable results of freedom and civilization. One of the scenes represented is
a slave sale. We can not do better than quote verbatim some parts of a report which appeared in the
Tribune of March 11, 1859. The sale consisted of 436 slaves -- men, women, and children -- and were
the property of Mr. Pierce M. Butler, and were sold to pay his debts. It took place near the city
of Savannah, Georgia:
"There were no light mulattoes in the whole lot of the Butler stock, and but very few that were even a shade
removed from the original Congo blackness. They have been little defiled by the admixture of Anglo-Saxon blood,
and for the most part could boast that they were of as pure
a breed as the bluest blood of Spain.
"None of the Butler slaves have ever been sold before, but have been on these two plantations ever since they
were born. [We should have said before that old Major Butler left the property to his two sons, and these sold
were only half of them, the others still remaining as before.] Here have they lived their humble lives and loved
their simple loves; here were they born, and here have many of them had children born unto them; here had
their parents lived before them, and are now resting in quiet graves on the old plantations that these unhappy
ones are to see no more forever; here they left not only the well-known scenes dear to them from very babyhood
by a thousand fond memories, and homes as much loved by them, perhaps, as brighter homes by men of brighter
faces; but all the clinging ties that bound them to living hearts were torn asunder, for but one half of each of these
two unhappy little communities was sent to the shambles, to be scattered to the four winds, and the other half was
left behind. And who can tell how closely intertwined are the affections of a little band of four hundred persons
living isolated from all the world beside, from birth to middle
age? Do they not naturally become one great family, each man a brother unto each?
"It is true they were sold `in families,' but let us see:
A man and his wife were called `a family;' their parents and kindred were not taken into account; the man and
wife might be sold to the pine woods of North Carolina, their brothers and sisters be scattered through the cotton
fields of Alabama and the rice swamps of Louisiana, while the parents might be left on the old plantation, to wear
out their weary lives in heavy grief, and lay their heads in far-off graves over which their children might never weep.
And no account could be taken of loves that were as yet unconsummated by marriage, and how many aching
hearts have been divorced by this summary proceeding no man can ever know.
"And the separation is as utter, and is infinitely more hopeless, than that made by the angel of death, for then
the loved ones are committed to the care of a merciful Deity, but in the other instance to the tender mercies of a
slave-driver. These dark-skinned unfortunates are perfectly unlettered, and could not communicate by writing
even if they should know where to send their missives. And so to each other, and to the old familiar places of
their youth, clung all their sympathies and affections, not less strong, perhaps, because they are so few. The blades
of grass on all the Butler estates are outnumbered by the tears that are poured out in agony at the wreck that has
been wrought in happy homes, and the crushing grief that has been laid on loving hearts."
The quiet and reserved deportment of the slaves during the few days that preceded the sale, when
the buyers, coming from far and near, had leisure to examine them, particularly of the women, is
spoken of thus:
"The women never spoke to the white men unless spoken to, and then made the conference as short as possible.
And not one of them all, during the whole time they were exposed to the rude questions of vulgar men, spoke the
first unwomanly or indelicate word, or conducted herself
in any regard otherwise than as a modest woman should do. Their conversation and demeanor were quite as
unexceptionable as they would have been had they been the highest ladies in the land; and through all the insults to
which they were subjected they conducted themselves with the most perfect decorum and self-respect.
"And now come the scenes of the last partings -- of the final separations of those who were akin, or who had been
such dear friends from youth that no ties of kindred could bind them closer -- of those who were all in all to each
other, and for whose bleeding hearts there shall be no earthly
comfort -- the parting of parents from children, of brother from brother, and the rending of sister from a sister's
bosom; and oh, hardest, cruelest of all, the tearing asunder of loving hearts, wedded in all save the one ceremony of
the Church -- these scenes pass all description; it is not
meet for pen to meddle with tears so holy."
In the picture above this is a slaver from Africa laden with its precious freight of hundreds of
human beings, packed as close as possible. In the same picture are runaway slaves. One of them
has already been overtaken by the unerring scent of the carefully-trained blood-hound; another has
yielded up his life rather than his liberty; and some others are trying hard to make their escape
to the dismal swamp. The lower picture shows us the overseer compelling the negroes to work by
the power of the lash.
The other side of our picture shows us the negroes receiving pay for their faithful labor -- their
just due for services rendered their employer -- and the children going to school.
|According to Draper
Hill, the leading expert on Thomas Nast, this
cartoon had been rejected twice by Harperís
Weekly, and was only printed after the
Emancipation Proclamation went into effect. The
editorial policy under publisher Fletcher Harper
and managing editor John Bonner was restrained on
the question of emancipation. That position
changed in December 1863 when George William
Curtis became the paperís editorial writer. He
enthusiastically supported emancipation, and
praised Nastís work.