Although illustrator D.H.Strother was
a Unionist who opposed secession, he was also a
native Virginian who supported the institution of
slavery. In this cartoon, he presents the
relationship between a master and his slaves as so
trustful, and the institution of slavery as so
benign, that the master arms his slaves to protect
the plantation against John Brown and his men. The
artist’s message is clear: being the slave of a
(presumably) kind master is better than being freed
by violent abolitionists.
In reality, Southern whites so
feared armed blacks and any hint of a slave revolt that states
enacted strict laws prohibiting the use of firearms by blacks.
Such laws were one example of "slave codes"—an
elaborate system of state laws and local ordinances that
severely limited the liberties of slaves and protected the
institution of slavery. Note that the slaves in this cartoon
carry bladed weapons, while the gun is held for the master.