“A Blessing No Doubt”: Works of Parody and Satire in the Anti-Slavery Cause
The March release of The American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922: From the American Antiquarian Society includes two works that employ parody and satire to counter the arguments of the pro-slavery faction in America in the 1830s. Also described below is the three-volume journal of an English abolitionist’s sojourn in the Antebellum United States.
The Little Western against the Great Eastern: or Brother Jonathan vs. John Bull: Being a Review by a Plebeian of the Western Hemisphere of Abolitionism, as Exposed by Doctor Sleigh (1838)
The author, using the pen name Little Western, introduces his argument:
In order to show what I want to refute, I must first show what the Doctor wants to prove. It becomes, therefore, necessary to copy his Title page, and here it is:
“Abolitionism Exposed, proving that the principles of abolitionism are injurious to the slaves themselves, destructive to this nation, and contrary to the express commands of God; with strong evidence that some of the principal champions of abolitionism are inveterate enemies to this country, and are taking advantage of the anti-slavery war-whoop to dissever and break up the union. ‘While they promise them Liberty, they themselves are the slaves of corruption.’ 2d Peter, ii. 10.
“By W.W. Sleigh, F.R.C.S.L., formerly Professor of Anatomy and Surgery, London: Hon. Mem. R.W.L.S.I., author of the Science of Surgery, the Christian’s Defensive Dictionary against Infidelity, &c., &c., &c.”
Referring to himself as a Plebian, Little Western reveals what the initials surrounding Sleigh’s name actually signify:
The two large W.W.’s prefixed to the Doctor’s name, are intended as abbreviations to the two words, Wonderful Wonderful; and the five letters that follow next in train, namely, F.R.C.S.L. are abbreviations of the five following words, Fashionable Recorder of Common Scandal from London.
So far, so good. But what of the other string of letters?
…and here are the abbreviations to be conquered, R.W.L.S.I.; what other interpretation will they bear than to represent the five following words: Right Worshipful Lawgiver in Satanic Institutions.
Hence, when the Doctor has his full title given, it will read thus: Wonderful Wonderful Dr. Sleigh, Fashionable Recorder of Common Scandal from London, and Right Worshipful Lawgiver in Satanic Institutions.
Having disposed of the good doctor thus, the author proceeds to dismantle his argument in favor of slavery. He questions the efficacy of the colonialization societies pointing out that while they are resettling up to 150 free blacks a year while keeping “all in slavery that are already slaves, to mingle, according to southern custom, as much white blood with theirs, by the virtuous practice of amalgamation, as will add annually to their numbers twenty-five thousand; or in other words, one per cent. per annum more than would be enrolled on the black list were all the blacks in this country free at the present moment.”
Little Western dissects the American Colonialization Society and its several presidents, including Bushrod Washington, Charles Carrol, James Madison, and Henry Clay, the current head of the society. He asks of Washington, “did he ever liberate a single slave, either during his lifetime or at his death…”
In May 1838 the new Pennsylvania Hall was first opened, and May 13th was designated for its dedication “to the cause of virtue, liberty, and independence…” The 3,000 people in the audience for the ceremony were “composed principally of those poor deluded fanatics who receive so many courteous compliments from Doctor Sleigh, F.R.C.S.L., R.W.L.S.I….”
Subsequently, a mob destroyed Pennsylvania Hall burning it to the ground.
But in the face of all these facts, the enlightened advocates of mob benevolence will tell you, Pennsylvania Hall would not have been burnt had not the negroes been permitted to go inside….
Slavery Vindicated: or the Beauty and Glory of the “Patriarchal System” Illustrated. A Poetical Oration, by a Southern Nabob. Reported by Philo Fidelitas, stenograhper [i.e., stenographer] (1838)
The citation for this work calls it “A parody, in verse, of arguments to justify slavery.” Philo Fidelitas, referring to himself as The Reporter, introduces the verse:
On the wings of the wind comes a voice from the South,
Lo! the Chief of the Nabobs has opened his mouth…
I listen’d of late for a while as he spoke,
And what follows is gleaned from the notes which I took:
Abrupt he commenced, for his passion boil’d high,
And pride swelled in his port, as rage flash’d from his eye.
The Nabob begins:
What madness to think our republic can stand,
If the Slavery-System be swept from the land!
‘Tis the cap-stone of Freedom—‘tis Chivalry’s guard;—
Yet traitors and fools would the blessing discard!
Can they point out a way the nation could be,
Without it, one hour independent and free?
Our ebony chattels—God knows that we need ‘em,
To grace and embellish the Temple of Freedom.
And the Nabob continues to rhyme his argument:
Our slaves are our chattels—and we have a right
To the labor of black men, because—we are white.
Shall we, noble Southrons, submit to the shame
Of toil, who the glory of Chivalry claim?
No—Heaven ordain’d we should live at our ease,
In pomp and in luxury just as we please;
And the negroes for nothing should toil till they die,
Whatever our wishes require, to supply.
After boasting that the slave owners used the whip to a good and even heavenly-ordained purpose, The Nabob asserts that the slaves are far better off in their servitude than they would be if emancipated.
Ere the cursed fanatics their crusade begun,
How quiet our beautiful system went on!
Patriarchal and mild is the system throughout,
To the people of color a blessing no doubt.
The beams of its glory fanatics may hate,
And about the injustice of slavery prate;
Ay, pour if they please their mock sympathy forth,
To enlist in their crusade the fools of the North;
Yet we of the South can clear evidence show,
That the system’s a blessing, as all of us know.
Denounce it who will, ‘tis a beautiful thing;
What else either safety or comfort could bring
To the African race? If to-day they were free,
The Lord knows how sad their condition would be!
Not yet done, the Nabob concludes with a naked threat.
Let the whole clan of crusaders timely beware,
And prudently cease Southern vengeance to dare!
There’s a cell in each bosom where vengeance long pent,
Restrain’d by forbearance, now struggles for vent,
And forth, like the bolt from the cloud, let it burst,
And wither at once the fanatics accurst!
Mr. President!—no—we will ne’er shrink from slaughter!—
For the present, I’m done—now some brandy and water.
Journal of a Residence and Tour in the United States of North America: from April, 1833, to October, 1834. by E.S. Abdy (1835)
The final work to be highlighted is a three-volume account of an Englishman’s tour of the United States for 18 months in 1833 and 1834. Edward Strutt Abdy accompanied members of the British Society for the Improvement of Prison Discipline and the Reformation of Juvenile Offenders on their American tour. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography not much is known about Abdy prior to or subsequent to publication of his journal. It does appear that he was in close contact with American abolitionists and was engaged in the founding of the Anti-Slavery League in America.
This involvement with the abolitionist movement renders his personal observations relevant to the issue of slavery and inclusion in this collection. Each chapter begins with a sort of table of contents indicative of Abdy’s range of interests and inquiries. Chapter II, Volume 1 serves as an example:
Trades’ Unions. – State of Economical Science. – Good breeding. – Alms-house, Penitentiary, Hospital, &c. – President’s visit to New York. – Aristocracy of the Skin. – Relative value of the two races. – Colonization Society.