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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

A Tribute to Mrs. Child

By Samuel Joseph May (1797–1871)

[Born in Boston, Mass., 1797. Died at Syracuse, N. Y., 1871. Some Recollections of our Antislavery Conflict. 1869.]

THERE is one of whom I must speak now, because I have already passed the time, at which her inestimable services commenced. In July, 1833, when the number, the variety, and the malignity of our opponents had become manifest, we were not much more delighted than surprised by the publication of a thorough-going antislavery volume, from the pen of Mrs. Lydia Maria Child. She was at that time, perhaps, the most popular as well as useful of our female writers. None certainly, excepting Miss Sedgwick, rivalled her…. That such an author—ay, such an authority—should espouse our cause just at that crisis, I do assure you, was a matter of no small joy, yes, exultation. She was extensively known in the Southern as well as the Northern States, and her books commanded a ready sale there not less than here. We had seen her often at our meetings. We knew that she sympathized with her brave husband in his abhorrence of our American system of slavery; but we did not know that she had so carefully studied and thoroughly mastered the subject. Nor did we suspect that she possessed the power, if she had the courage, to strike so heavy a blow. Why, the very title-page was pregnant with the gist of the whole matters under dispute between us,—“Immediate Abolitionists,” and the slave-holders on the one hand, and the Colonizationists on the other,—“An Appeal in Favour of that class of Americans CALLED Africans.” The volume, still prominent in the literature of our conflict, is replete with facts showing, not only the horrible cruelties that had been perpetrated by individual slave-holders or their overseers, but the essential barbarity of the system of slavery, its dehumanizing influences upon those who enforced it scarcely less than upon those who were crushed under it. Her book did us an especially valuable service in showing, to those who had paid little attention to the subject, that the Africans are not by nature inferior to other—even the white—races of men; but that “Ethiopia held a conspicuous place among the nations of ancient times.”… Mrs. Child’s exposure of the fallacy of the Colonization scheme, as well as the falsity of the pretensions put forth by its advocates, amply sustained all Mr. Garrison’s accusations. And her exposé of the principles of the “Immediate Abolitionists” was clear, and her defence of them was impregnable.

This “Appeal” reached thousands who had given no heed to us before, and made many converts to the doctrines of Mr. Garrison.

Of course, what pleased and helped us so much gave proportionate offence to slave-holders, Colonizationists, and their Northern abettors. Mrs. Child was denounced. Her effeminate admirers, both male and female, said there were “some very indelicate things in her book,” though there was nothing narrated in it that had not been allowed, if not perpetrated, by “the refined, hospitable, chivalric gentlemen and ladies” on their Southern plantations. The politicians and statesmen scouted the woman who “presumed to criticise so freely the constitution and government of her country. Women had better let politics alone.” And certain ministers gravely foreboded “evil and ruin to our country, if the women generally should follow Mrs. Child’s bad example, and neglect their domestic duties to attend to the affairs of state.”

Mrs. Child’s popularity was reversed. Her writings on other subjects were no longer sought after with the avidity that was shown for them before the publication of her “Appeal.” Most of them were sent back to their publishers from the Southern bookstores, with the notice that the demand for her books had ceased. The sale of them at the North was also greatly diminished. It was said at the time that her income from the productions of her pen was lessened six or eight hundred dollars a year. But this did not daunt her. On the contrary, it roused her to greater exertion, as it revealed to her more fully the moral corruption which slavery had diffused throughout our country, and summoned her patriotism as well as her benevolence to more determined conflict with our nation’s deadliest enemy. Indeed, she consecrated herself to the cause of the enslaved. Many of her publications since then have related to the great subject, viz.: The Oasis, Antislavery Catechism, Authentic Anecdotes, Evils and Cure of Slavery, Other Tracts, Life of Isaac T. Hopper, and, more than all, her letters to Governor Wise, of Virginia, and to Mrs. Mason, respecting John Brown. Those letters had an immense circulation throughout the free States, and were blazoned by all manner of anathemas in the Southern papers. Her letter to Mrs. Mason especially was copied by hundreds of thousands, and was doubtless one of the efficient agencies that prepared the mind of the North for the final great crisis.