The Collected Letters, Volume 25


TC TO N. BEVERLY TUCKER ; 21 October 1850; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18501021-TC-NBT-01; CL 25: 263-265


CHELSEA, LONDON, 21 October, 1850.

DEAR SIR,—Your letter and Pamphlets have duly reached me; for which accept my acknowledgments. The style both of what you write and of what you have spoken invites a considerate perusal; and such accordingly you have had from me. If it were in my power to forward, in the way you mention, what I find to be right and essentially just in your endeavours, surely I should not neglect it. But that, I must add, is little likely, in the present state of our affairs, as of yours! Our ‘New Downing Street,’ as the present omens indicate, is still at a great distance.

Meanwhile, dark as we are in regard to all details, I think you rather exaggerate to yourself our ignorance as to your essential position in that big controversy. I find it a settled conviction among rational Englishmen, which they frequently express in a careless way, that the Southern States must ultimately feel driven to separate themselves from the Northern; in which result there is not felt here to be anything treasonous or otherwise horrible; our grand short-coming is that we regard the matter as one in which we have no concern, or a much smaller one than the fact might indicate if we would look at it;—that, in short, the rational class, on this as on some other subjects, is at present a dull and luke-warm one; and that, Exeter Hall having all the talk to itself, a windy foolish and otherwise inconsiderable minority (for such I really take it to be, even by a count of Heads, if you insisted on having any degree of sense in them) usurps the name and figure of England in treating of this matter. Perhaps now at last the dumb sense of the Country does begin to stir, and growl a kind of inarticulate contradiction to the Platforms; but I foresee it will be a long time, such is the complicated depth of this Emancipation Question, and such the general numb bewilderment of men's minds, before the wise result be insisted on with emphasis, and get the majority in its favour.

For you and other men of sense and manfulness of spirit, who stand in the very coil of Negro complications, and feel practically that you must retain command of your servants, or else quit your place and task in the world, I find it altogether natural that you should in silence resolve to front all extremities rather than yield to an extrinsic demand of that nature, however big-voiced and pretentious it became: in which quarrel, too, what can I say, except ‘God stand by the right,’ which I clearly perceive you in part are!

But, alas, the question is deep as the foundations of society; and will not be settled this long while! For the cry about Emancipation, so well pleased with itself on Humanity Platforms, is but the key-note of that huge anarchic roar now rising from all nations, for good reasons too,—which tends to abolish all mastership and obedience whatsoever in this world, and to render Society impossible among the Sons of Adam! And I doubt we have hardly got to the crisis of that yet,—at least among speakers in England I find myself in a painful minority of one in regard to it;—and after the crisis, when the minority shall have even become considerable, I feel too well what a task will lie ahead of them! It is truly time that each brave man consulted solemnly his own most religious oracles on the subject, and stood piously prepared to do whatever God's mandate he felt to be laid on him in regard to it.

Give me leave, in my dim light, but in my real sympathy with your affairs, to hint another thought I have. It is that this clamour from your ‘Exeter Hall’ and ours, which few persons can regard with less reverence than I, was nevertheless a thing necessary. My notion is that the relation of the White man to the Black is not at present a just one according to the Law of the Eternal; and tho' ‘Abolition’ is by no means the way to remedy it, and would be a ‘remedy’ equivalent to killing it (as I believe), yet, beyond all question, remedied it must be; and peace upon it is not possible till a remedy be found, and begin to be visibly applied. ‘A servant hired for life, instead of by the day or month’: I have often wondered that wise and just men in your region (of whom I believe there are many) had not come upon a great many methods, or at least some methods better than those yet in use, of justly enunciating this relation, and relieving such asperities of it as become intolerable. Have you, for example, a law by which a Negro, on producing a certain sum of money possible for the thrift and foresight of a superior Negro, can demand his Freedom?— I could conceive many other laws, and Practices not quite in use at present; but am at the bottom of my paper, and must end. I shall say only, the Negro Question will be left in peace, when God Almighty's law about it is (with tolerable approximation) actually found out and practised; and never till then. Might this also be a word to the wise!1— With many regards and true wishes,

Yours sincerely,


To Honble Beverley Tucker,
Virginia, U.S.