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In modern times there has been no such slavery anywhere else in the world as that which recently existed in our own country; there has been no other such slave as the old American slave; and now there is nowhere else any such freedman as the one who forms the subject of this discussion.
Our duties, it seems to me, are of two classes, moral and political. The former we can discharge as teachers, the latter as citizens. But our moral duties are not very much changed. If we perform these aright, the others will take care of themselves. It would have been so at any time in the past. If it be our duty now to educate the freedmen, then it was just as much our duty ten years ago to think, speak, act, and vote, in every constitutional way, to the end that we might bring the old slave into a position where we might educate him. He was the same being then that he is now; the same man, with the same brain, same soul, the same interest and aspirations.
I repeat, then, that our moral duties are the same, and on the ground that moral principle never changes. It is God's truth, and, like its Author, cannot change. Otherwise the moral government of the universe were a very uncertain thing
Still, we feel that a great change has come over us. The difference, perhaps, is in ourselves. We at length have learned something. And if we have learned how wrong we have been in the past, it is a great gain. God has thrust before our faces some of the most important lessons. He has compelled us to study them. And in the light of these teachings, how have our old theories vanished ! We hardly like to think of them now, or that we ever held the opinions which we have maintained in the past. For, in spite of ourselves and our theories, this freedman has proved himself.
Now our duties to him, in my opinion, depend upon what he is ; whether he be horse, alligator, monkey, or man.
and what has he proved himself ? Has he those traits of character which it will pay to educate, nay, more, which it is our moral duty to educate ? As yet, we know nothing to the contrary.
It seems to me that there are at least three traits of character essential in order that the freedman may become a good citizen. The first is a deep religious element. The second is an ambition to be somebody and to do something in the world. The third is courage to defend his own.
Has he the first? It has always been accorded to him. Indeed, his worst enemies in the dark days of slavery were wont to ridicule him as a poor religious simpleton, a pious creature. And I suppose that, because he was so devoted to his heavenly Master, they thought he could be good for nothing here below except as the slave of a worldly one. But this religious element is a fixed thing in his nature. I verily believe that it is distinctive when we compare him with the other races as they are exhibited in this country. Indeed, to speak briefly, it was only because the negro was a little better in this respect than ourselves that he was kept a slave.
And here I would not be understood to imply that I regard the negro as superior or equal to the white man in the sum total of character. I assume no such thing. I speak only of a single trait.
Now, has he the second element, ambition ? Here the facts come into collision with theories. He never was able to take care of himself before the war! That was certain. So said the political philosopher. It was vainly urged that he was all the time taking care of himself and massa too. That was undignified fanaticism.
But since the war, the case seems to be different. And I have thought that if war can work so great a change in a whole race and in so short a time, and is to such a degree the regenerator of the world, it were almost well to have it oftener and more of it.
The burden of evidence which we get, whether from his former friends or foes, concurs to establish the affirmative of this question. It is all in his favor. So that we feel, if there be a class of human creatures South devoid of ambition, it is not the old slaves.
“Do you wish to learn to read ? ” inquired a soldier of a miserable white woman one of the white trash — in her cabin. “ Wal, I reckon I do n't; let the niggers do that,” was the reply.
But, on the other hand, how encouraging, interesting, and even affecting, to see the clouds of witnesses which come up to us beseechingly from that population, and testify to the value of a little learning! An incident in this connection will harmonize with many which have already been related. A friend of mine was travelling in Kentucky, and one day came in sight of a man ploughing in a field. The field was well tilled, the horses were fat and sleek, and the man, though black, was of comely appearance.
My friend approached and asked, “ Whose field is this ?” “Mine, sir.” “ Whose horses are these?” “Mine, sir.” “ Then you never were a slave.” “Oh yes, I was a slave once, but I bought myself, massa, and paid a thousand dollars. Then I bought some land and some horses. Now, this farm, these horses, and that house and barn, are all mine. But I would give them all if I could learn to read.” Yes, with all his gettings, which were not small, he would rather get understanding, So, too, the business capacity of the freedman, as far as we have evidence of its development, is not inferior to his desire for intelligence. I shall not be surprised, if it prove at length that the real enterprise of the South be found among the freedmen. But the negro was the man who would never fight! Here he has come out triumphantly against his old oppressor. And in addition to all the evidence of men from George Washington and Andrew Jackson down through the rank and file of our late armies, and from the lips of every intelligent officer in our land, he has sealed with his own blood the testimony of his love for his country; has given us the most incontestable proof of his courage in many a hardfought battle. What could he have done more ?
For, remember, it was he who saved our country. He went into the fight at just the point of time when his strong arm and undivided loyalty could do the most effectual service for the government.
He saved us; and this temple of liberty, which is now the beacon light for all the wandering children of despotism on this earth, is a memorial of his patriotism and courage, his love of liberty and truth.
The freedman has the elements of a good citizen. asks you for a cup of water, for a morsel of bread. He asks you to teach him how to read. Will you give him a stone ? We owe him all that he asks. Shall we pay him in the way that he asks ?
If we do not, it may be a fearful responsibility which we incur, and we may have to pour out our blood in still larger measure than we have yet done.
Again, we owe this educational policy to ourselves. For it is no light debt which we have been contracting these two hundred years. The bill has at length been presented to us. It is fearfully large, but it must be paid to the very last letter of the assessment which God himself has made.
We cannot barter nor compromise with Him; and if he will let us off by our discharge of some of these duties of benevolence, we shall indeed have reason to thank him for
We owe this policy to our country.
A wise Athenian once said, “ That is the best form of government in which an injury to the humblest citizen is an insult to the whole republic.” We
e may say with far more of truth, that that is the best form which makes the most of its every subject. Now in the South we have a large amount of material, of stuff, not confined to any particular race, of which it is our duty to make the most that we can. It is to be transformed and moulded into the machinery of State. Shall we make the most of that stuff? As we look upon it, en masse, we find but little difference. It all has head, hands, feet, arms, legs, and locomotive power alike. But upon nearer view we find slight differences. There is the difference of color; there is the difference in the shape of hands and feet; there is a difference in the hair of the head; we find long hair and short hair, straight hair and crooked hair, and, for aught that I can say, mohair, and sometimes no hair. But what of all this? There is the stuff out of which to make a nation. Shall we use it like sensible men, or shall we be guided by our old prejudices, skin-deep prejudices, regardless of the heart and soul of a race which is hungering after the bread of life?
Shall we find any true, Christian dignity in the latter course ?
Now, what have we to do as educators ? Much. I am one of those who believe that the schoolmaster has a mission. There is always, at least, one generation looking to him for light. Let us be faithful there. And while I would never teach partisan politics in school, would never tell a child how he or his father should vote, I would nevertheless strive to infuse into his mind such ideas of justice, freedom, and the equality of all men before the law and before God, that he never could vote wrong upon one of these questions. We have, then, great duties. We must teach the great truths of