Part 2 out of 6
"I heard you had left James with the goods." Here he sighed again,
wagged his head, and added:
"But I couldn't believe it!" and without another word turned and walked
They chose to regard mother's illness as a personal grievance. "The way
of the transgressor is hard;" and she, having sinned against the saints,
must bear her iniquity, and thus suffer the just reward of her deeds.
I had frequent letters from my husband, and he was waiting on the wharf,
watching every boat for my appearance. I told him before leaving
Louisville, that I never would return--never again would try to live in
a slave State, and advised him to sell the goods at auction, and with
the money start a sawmill up the Allegheny river, and I would go to him.
This advice he resented. At length he grew tired waiting, and came for
me. It is neither possible nor necessary here to describe the trouble
which ensued, but I would not nor did not leave mother, and she at last
remembered the protection to which she was entitled by the city
With all mother's courage, her moans were heartbreaking. No opiate then
known could bring one half-hour of any sleep in which they ceased, and
in her waking hours the burden of her woe found vent in a low refrain:
"My Father! is it not enough?"
Our principal care was to guard her from noise. The click of a knife or
spoon on a plate or cup in the adjoining room, sent a thrill of pain to
her nerve centres. Only two friends were gentle enough to aid Elizabeth
and me in nursing her, as she murmured, constantly: "If my husband were
She could bear no voice in reading save Gabriel Adams' and my own. I
read to her comforting passages of Scripture, and said prayers which
carried her soul up to the throne, and fell back on mine in showers of
dust and ashes. A great black atheism had fallen on me. There was no
justice on earth, no mercy in heaven.
Her house was in Pittsburg, on Sixth street, a little cottage built for
her father and mother when they were alone. It stood back in a yard, and
rough men in passing stepped lightly--children went elsewhere with their
sports--friends tapped on the gate, and we went out to answer inquiries
and receive supplies--prayers were offered for her in churches,
societies and families. The house was a shrine consecrated by suffering
The third month passed, and still she lingered. For seven weeks she took
no nourishment but half a cup of milk, two parts water, per day. Then
her appetite returned and her agony increased, but still with no lament
save: "My Father! Is it not enough?"
In the sixth month, January 17th, 1840, relief came. As I knelt for her
last words, she said: "Elizabeth?"
I replied, "She is here, dear mother, what of her?"
Summoning strength she said:
"Let no one separate you!" then looked up and said, "It is enough," and
breathed no more.
As her spirit rose, it broke the cloud, and the divine presence fell
upon me. The room, the world was full of peace. She had been caught up
out of the storm; and "he who endureth unto the end shall be saved."
By her request, I and a dear friend, Martha Campbell, prepared her body
for burial, and we wrapped her in a linen winding-sheet, as the body of
Christ was buried--no flowers, no decorations; only stern, solemn Death.
On the last day of father's life he had said to her, "Mary you are
human, and must have faults, but whatever they are I never have seen
She had been his widow seventeen years, and by her desire we opened his
grave and laid her body to mingle its dust with his, who had been her
only love in the life that now is, and with whom she expected to spend
"LABOR--SERVICE OR ACT."--AGE, 25.
Mother's will left everything to trustees, for the use of Elizabeth and
myself. She had wished my husband to join her in a suit for the recovery
of father's city property, and he refused, but signed a deed with me
conveying my interest to her. This claim she also willed to her trustees
for my use. He felt himself wronged and became angry, but had one
remedy. Being the owner of my person and services, he had a right to
wages for the time spent in nursing mother, and would file his claim
against her executors.
I do not know why I should have been so utterly overwhelmed by this
proposal to execute a law passed by Christian legislators for the
government of Christian people--a law which had never been questioned by
any nation, or state, or church, and was in full force all over the
world. Why should the discovery of its existence curdle my blood, stop
my heart-beats, and send a rush of burning shame from forehead to
finger-tip? Why should I have blushed that my husband was a law-abiding
citizen of the freest country in the world? Why blame him for acting in
harmony with the canons of every Christian church--aye, of that one of
which I was a member, and proud of its history as a bulwark of civil
liberty? Was it any fault of his that "all that she (the wife) can
acquire by her labor-service or act during coverture, belongs to her
husband?" Certainly not. Yet that law made me shrink and think of
mother's warning, given so long ago. But marriage was a life-contract,
and God required me to keep it to the end, and said, "When thou passeth
through the fire I will be with thee, and the floods shall not overflow
thee." I could not bear to have a bill sent to mother's executors for my
wages, but I could compromise, and I did.
He returned to Louisville, sold the goods, went on a trading-boat, and
joined Samuel in Little Rock. While he was there Samuel died--died a
Presbyterian, and left this message for me:
"Tell sister Jane I will meet her in heaven."
This my husband transmitted to me, and was deeply grieved and much
softened by his brother's death.
Rev. Isaiah Niblock, of Butler, Pa., a distant relative and very near
friend, asked me to take charge of the Butler Seminary and become his
guest. My salary would be twenty-five dollars a month, and this was
munificent. Elizabeth went to Pittsburg to school, and I to Butler,
where my success was complete and I very happy. Among my pupils were two
daughters of my old patron, Judge Braden. One of these, little Nannie,
was full of pleasant surprises, and "brought down the house" during
examination, by reciting a country girl's account of her presentation at
court, in which occurs this stanza:
"And there the King and I were standing
Face and face together;
I said, 'How is your Majesty?
It's mighty pleasant weather!'"
By Nannie's way of giving the lines, they were so fixed on my memory as
to be often mingled with solemn reveries in after years.
Petitions were presented in the Pennsylvania Legislature for the
abolition of capital punishment. Senator Sullivan, chairman of the
committee to which they were referred, wrote to Mr. Niblock for the
scripture view. He was ill and requested me to answer, which I did, and
Mr. Sullivan drew liberally from my arguments in his report against
granting the petitions. The report was attacked, and I defended it in
several letters published in a Butler paper--anonymously--and this was
my first appearance in print, except a short letter published by George
D. Prentiss, in the Louisville _Journal_, of which I remember nothing,
save the strangeness of seeing my thoughts in print.
SWISSVALE.--AGE, 26, 27.
In April, 1842, my husband took possession of the old home in the
valley, and we went there to live. There were large possibilities in the
old house, and we soon had a pleasant residence. I had the furniture
mother left me, and a small income from her estate. The farm I named
"Swissvale," and such is the name thereof. When the Pennsylvania
railroad was built it ran through it, but not in sight of the house, and
the station was called for the homestead.
In the summer of '42 I began to write stories and rhymes, under the _nom
de plume_ of "Jennie Deans," for _The Dollar Newspaper_ and _Neal's
Saturday Gazette_, both of Philadelphia. Reece C. Fleeson published an
anti-slavery weekly in Pittsburg, _The Spirit of Liberty_, and for this
I wrote abolition articles and essays on woman's right to life, liberty,
and the pursuit of happiness. My productions were praised, and my
husband was provoked that I did not use my own name. If I were not
ashamed of my articles, why not sign them? He had not given up the idea
that I should preach. Indeed, he held me accountable for most of the
evils in the world, on the ground that I could overthrow them if I
Elizabeth was married in June, and went to Ohio. In the autumn, my
husband's mother and the boys came to live with us, to which I made no
objection, for "honor thy father and mother" was spoken as much to him
as to me. Maybe I had some spiritual pride in seeing that she turned
from her converted daughters, who were wealthy and lived near, to make a
home with unregenerate me. She liked my housekeeping, and "grandmother,"
as I always called her, with her white 'kerchiefs and caps, sitting by
the fireplace plying her knitting-needles, became my special pride.
My husband had converted the Louisville goods into one panther, one
deer, two bears, and a roll of "wildcat" money. It was not very good
stock with which to begin life on a farm, but the monotony was relieved
by a hooking, kicking cow, and a horse which broke wagons to splinters.
Tom, the panther, was domiciled in the corner made by the old stone
chimney and the log wall of the house, close to the path which led to
the garden. The bears were chained in the meadow behind the house and
Billy, the deer, ranged at will. Tom and the bears ate pigs and poultry
so fast that we gave up trying to raise any, while Billy's visits to the
garden did not improve the vegetables. I tried to establish some control
over Tom, as a substitute for the fear he felt for his master, who was
not always within call, and who insisted that Tom could be tamed so as
to serve the place of a watchdog. Tom had been quite obedient for Tom,
and my terror for him had abated.
I was interested in the heathen of India, and was president of a society
which met in Pittsburg. Coming home from a meeting, I was thrown out of
a buggy and so badly hurt that I was kept in bed six weeks. When I began
to go out on crutches, I started to go to the garden, and forgot Tom
until I heard him growl. He lay flat, with his nose on his paws, his
tail on the ground straight as a ramrod, save a few inches at the tip,
which wagged slowly, his eyes green and fiery, and I not three feet from
his head, and just in reach, even if his chain held; but I had seen it
break in one of those springs which he was now preparing to make. There
was no help near! He would spring for my head and shoulders. If these
were out of his way, he could not hold me by my dress which, was a thin
muslin wrapper. He was not likely to leap until something moved, and
might lie there sometime. I had heard that a panther will not jump under
the gaze of a human eye, so I looked steadily into his, while I talked
"Tom! Tom! Down sir," and so tried to recall his knowledge of me.
Fortunately my feet were a little in advance of my crutches, and while I
looked and talked, holding my body motionless, I was planting my
crutches and throwing my weight on my well foot. I heard the girl coming
out of the house and knew the time had come. With all my strength I
swung myself backward as he made the leap. His hot breath rushed into my
face, his fiery eyes glared close to mine, but his chain was too short.
Then I knew I had no mission for taming panthers. From the first I had
feared that he would kill some child, and it was impossible to prevent
them trooping to see him. After my own narrow escape I protested so
strongly against keeping him, that my husband consented to sell him to a
menagerie; but those which came were supplied with panthers, and,
although he was a splendid specimen, full nine feet long, no sale was
found for him.
That adventure supplied memory with a picture, which for long years
breathed and never was absent. If it was not before me it was in some
corner, and I knew Tom was crouched to spring on me; his fiery eyes
glared, the tip of his tail wagged, and he was waiting, only waiting for
me to move. Often when I woke at night, he was on my bed or in a corner
of the room. He was hidden in fence corners and behind bushes on the
roadside, and Mary's little lamb was never half so faithful as my
My husband could not understand the fear I felt, nor realize the danger
of keeping him. He enjoyed his own mastery over him, and with a box on
the side of the head he made Tom whine and crouch like a spaniel. I have
often wondered that in all the accounts I have ever read of lights with
wild animals, no one ever planted a good fist-blow under the ear of his
four-legged antagonist, and so stretch it out stiff to await his
leisure in disposing of it.
WILLOWS BY THE WATER-COURSES.--AGE, 27.
Pennsylvania customs made it unmanly for a man or boy to aid any woman,
even mother or wife, in any hard work with which farms abounded at that
time. Dairy work, candle and sausage making were done by women, and any
innovation was met with sneers. I stubbornly refused to yield altogether
to a time-honored code, which required women to perform outdoor
drudgery, often while men sat in the house, and soon had the sympathy of
our own boys; for it was often impossible to obtain any domestic help,
though Pittsburg "charitable" people supported hundreds of women in
idleness who might have had homes and wages in farmhouses.
Much of the natural beauty of Swissvale had been destroyed by pioneer
improvements, which I sought in some degree to replace. I loved the
woods, and with my little grubbing-hoe transplanted many wild and
beautiful things. This my mother-in-law did not approve, as her love for
the beautiful was satisfied by a flower border in the garden. One day
"James, I would not have that willow in that corner. The roots will get
into the race. It is the real basket willow, and if you cut it into
stubs and stick them in the swamp, you can sell enough willow to buy all
"Grandmother, you forget that is my tree; I want it to drape that bare
knoll. The roots will run below the bed of the race. The boys can get
plenty of stubs at Flemming's."
She only replied by a "humph!" and next day I discovered my tree had
been sawed into pieces and planted in the swamp. Words would not restore
it, and I wasted none; but next morning rose early, and, hatchet in
hand, went to the parent tree, climbed on a fence and cut off a limb,
which I dragged home, feeling glad that anything had brought me a walk
on such a glorious morning. I planted the main stock in that corner,
then put about a hundred twigs in the swamp for basket willow. In a few
days my second tree disappeared, and I brought another, for a tree there
was indispensable, and I hoped to make my husband see as I did, and
thought I had won his consent to willows. So I went up and down the race
and runs, putting in twigs, and thinking of the "willows by the
watercourses," and Israel's lament:
"By Babel's streams we sat and wept
When Zion we thought on,
In midst thereof we hanged our harps
The willow trees upon."
I was banished from my Zion, never permitted to hear the teachings of my
old pastor, for which my soul panted as the thirsty hart for the water
brooks, and in my Babylon I wanted willows. Some of my plantings were
permitted to remain, and Swissvale is now noted for its magnificent
willows; but that main tree was chopped up and burned. In its stead I
planted a young chestnut, where it still stands, a thing of beauty and
joy to the boys.
THE WATERS GROW DEEP.--AGE, 29.
The plans for my conversion seemed to be aided by our coming to the
farm, as I fitted up the "prophet's chamber" to entertain my husband's
friends in his house. There were two preachers in the circuit. The
eldest, a plain, blunt man, began on his first visit to pelt me with
problems about "man-made ministers" and Calvinism. I replied by citing
the election of Abraham, Jacob, and the entire Jewish nation, and by
quoting the 8th chapter of Romans, until he seemed to despair and came
no more, for they could not accept my hospitality while I refused their
religion. The other circuit rider was young, handsome and zealous, and
was doing a great work in converting young girls. On his first visit I
thought him rude. On his second, he inquired at table:
"Is this the place where they put onions into everything?"
I replied that we used none in tea or coffee. When I joined him and my
husband in the parlor, he waved his hand around the room to point out
its decorations and said:
"Brother James tells me that this is all your work. It is quite
wonderful, and now, sister, what a pity it is that you will not turn
your attention to religion. You seem to do everything so well."
He motioned as if to lay his hand on my shoulder. I drew back and said:
"Excuse me, sir, but I am not your sister; and as for your religion you
remind me with it of Doctor Jaynes and his hair tonic."
"How so, sister?"
"Again pardon, but I am not your sister. Doctor Jaynes uses a large part
of his column to persuade us that it is good to have good hair. No one
disputes that, and he should prove that his tonic will bring good hair.
So you talk of the importance of religion. No one disputes this, and it
is your business to prove that the nostrum you peddle is religion. I say
it is not. It is a system of will worship. Religion is obedience to
God's law. You teach people that they can, and do, obey this law
perfectly, while they do not know it. Your church has no bibles in her
pews, few in her families, and these unread. Preachers and all, not one
in twenty can repeat the ten commandments. You are blind leaders of the
blind, and must all fall into the ditch, destroyed for lack of
That week he proposed to abandon the Swissvale meeting-house, and build
one in Wilkinsburg, giving as a reason the impossibility of keeping up
a congregation with me on the farm.
Next Conference sent Rev. Henderson as presiding elder, who brought in a
new era. He slept in the "prophet's chamber," admired my pretty rooms,
and said nothing about my getting religion. The circuit preacher was of
the same mind, an earnest, modest, young man, wrestling with English
grammar, who on his first visit sought my help about adverbs, while my
mother-in-law looked on in evident displeasure.
To her this was the dawn of that new day, in which the Methodist church
rivals all others in her institutions of learning. The good time of
inspiration was slipping away. What wonder that she clutched it as Jacob
did his angel? There in that house she had for long years been an oracle
to inspired men, and now to see God's Spirit displaced by Kirkham's
grammar was rank infidelity. The Wilkinsburg meeting-house was being
built, and that one which had been to her all that the temple ever was
to Solomon, would be left to the owls and bats--her Zion desolate. Those
walls, made sacred by visions of glory and shouts of triumph, would
crumble to ruin in the clinging silence. How could she but think that
the influence was evil which could bring such result?
The new building was consecrated with much ceremony. The two Hendersons
staid with, us, and on Sabbath morning consulted me as to the best way
of taking up subscriptions. Mother-in-law looked on till she could bear
it no longer, and said:
"Brother Henderson, if you mean to be in time for love feast, you must
not stay fooling there."
Both men sprang to their feet, hurried away and never returned.
General Conference at its session in Baltimore, in 1840, passed the
"Black Gag" law, which forbade colored members of the church to give
testimony in church-trials against white members, in any state where
they were forbidden to testily in courts. Four members of the Pittsburg
Conference voted for it, and when my husband returned from the
dedication, I learned that three of them had figured prominently in the
exercises, and he had refused to commune on account of their
Everything went smoothly for ten days, when my husband came to our room,
where I sat writing, threw himself on the bed and poured out such a
torrent of accusations as I had not dreamed possible, and of which I
refrain from giving any adequate description. I looked up and saw that
he was livid with rage. His words appeared the ravings of a mad man, yet
there was method in them, and no crime in the calendar with which they
did not charge me. Butter money was not accounted for, pickles and
preserves missing, things about the house were going to destruction, the
country was full of falsehoods and I had told them all. It was all a
blur of sound and fury, but in it stood out these words:
"You ruined Samuel, and now you are trying to ruin the boys and those
two fool preachers. People know it, too, and I am ashamed to show my
face for the talk."
When he seemed to have finished, I asked:
"How long since you learned my real character?"
This spurred him to new wrath, and he exclaimed:
"There now, that's the next of it. You will go and tell that I've abused
you. It's not me. I never suspected your honesty, but my mother, yes, my
poor old mother. I would not care, if you could only behave yourself
before my mother!"
I sat leaning my elbows on my table with my head in my hands, and the
words "ruined Samuel" became a refrain. I thought of the danger out of
which I had plucked him while in Louisville, of the force with which I
had grappled him with hooks of steel, as he hung on the outer edge of
that precipice of dissipation, while I clung to the Almighty Arm for
help. I thought of the tears and solemnity with which this man had given
to me the dying message of that rescued brother. Earth seemed to be
passing away, and to leave no standing room. I was teaching school in
the abandoned meeting-house. It was noon recess and I must hurry or be
late. I passed into the hall and out of the house, with the thought "I
cross his threshold now for the last time;" but I must remain near and
finish my school, when I would be present to meet those monstrous
charges before the world. My reveries did not interfere with my school
duties, and when they were over I sat in the old meeting-house or walked
its one aisle, with the quiet dead lying all around me, thinking of that
good fight which I should fight, ere I finished my course, and lay down
to rest as they did. But the sun went down, the long twilight drew on
the coming night, and I was homeless. Where should I go?
I thought of the Burkhammers, whose little son lay among the dead beside
me. I had tended him in his last illness and prepared his body for
burial. They were German tenants of Judge Wilkins and to reach their
house I must pass through the dark valley over which now lay a new pall.
There were lights in the house as I passed, and Tom rattled his chain
and gave forth one of those shrieks which pierced the air for a mile. I
was glad to know that he was not loose, and that it was only my phantom
which crouched in every available place, ready to spring. The bears
bellowed a response to his shriek, but I did not hasten. The stream, so
loud and angry on that night of my first entrance into this vale of
tears, was now low, and sang a lullaby of angelic music as I crossed it
on stepping stones. On the hillside it was almost as dark as that night
when Father Olever stopped and felt for the bank with his whip.
The Burkhammers asked no questions, and I went to sleep without giving
any account of my strange visit, but about midnight I awoke myself and
the whole family by my sobs. They gathered around my bed, and I must
tell. What I said I do not know, but the old man interrupted me with:
"Oh tamm Jim. You stay here mit us. My old woman und me, we has blenty.
We dakes care of you. Nopody never said nodding bad about you. Everypody
likes you, caus you is bleasant mit everypody."
As he talked he drew his sleeve across his eyes, while his wife and
daughter comforted me. I would board there and finish my school, then go
to Butler and take the seminary, or a place in the common school.
I saw no one as I passed my late home next morning. In school the first
exercise was bible, reading verse about with the pupils. The xxv (25)
chapter of Matthew came in order, and while reading its account of the
final judgment, I saw as by a revelation why this trouble had been sent
to me, and a great flood of light seemed thrown across my path before
Christ's little ones were sick and in prison, and I had not visited
them! Old Martha, standing before her judges, rose up to upbraid me! I
was to have followed the Lamb, and had been making butter to add to an
estate larger now than the owner could use. No wonder she thought I
stole the money. I, who had failed to rebuke man-stealing, might steal
anything. That meeting-house which I had been helping to build by
entertaining its builders and aiding them about subscriptions, it and
they were a part of a great man-thieving machine. I had been false to
every principle of justice; had been decorating parlors when I should
have been tearing down prisons! _I_, helping Black Gagites build a
"When thou a thief didst see
Thou join'st with him in sin."'
Thinking, reaching out for the path to that bastile which I must attack,
I went on with my school duties until my husband walked in and asked why
I had not been at home. I was worn with intense strain, and at the word
home, burst into a passion of tears. I told the pupils to take their
books, and leave, there would be no more school, and I could hear them
go around on tip-toe and whisper. Twice a pair of little arms were
thrown around me, and the sound of the retreating footsteps died away
when my husband laid his hand all trembling on my head. I threw it off
and begged him to go away, his presence would kill me. He would not go,
and I went out into the woods. He followed, and said he had never
charged me with an evil thought, much less an action, was the most
loving of husbands and the most injured in that I had thought he had
found fault with me. He might have spoken a hasty word, but was it right
to lay it up against him? I still begged him to leave--that I should
die if he did not. He went, and I crossed the fields to the house of
Thomas Dickson, thinking that from it I could get to the city by the
river road and fly any where.
Mrs. Dickson made me go to bed, as I was able to go no where else, and
here my husband's brother-in-law found me. He had come as peace-maker,
and could not think what it all meant; some angry words of James about
his mother, who would now go back to live with him. The Dicksons joined
him with entreaties. If my husband had injured me, he was very, very
sorry, was quite overwhelmed with grief for the pain he had cost me.
Then they brought down the lever of scripture and conscience: "If thy
brother offend thee seventy times seven," and I yielded.
My husband came and I went home with him that evening, expecting that my
mother-in-law was installed in her new home on the hill; but she met and
kissed me at the door, and I did not care. Nothing could add to the
shudder of going into the house, and she seemed so grieved and
frightened that my heart was touched, and I was sorry for her that we
had ever met.
MY NAME APPEARS IN PRINT.--AGE, 29.
It was the third morning after my return, that my head would not leave
the pillow. Dr. Carothers came and blistered me from head to feet, and
for three weeks I saw no one but my attendants and my phantom panther.
He never left me. There was one corner of the room in which he stayed
most, and sometimes there was not room for his tail to wag, and then he
moved forward where I could not see his head. This troubled me, for then
I could not hold him with my eyes. At night they were two balls of green
fire; but they had always been, only when I was well I could turn my
head away, now I could not move it. I knew most of the time it was a
shadow from my brain, but was glad to hear Tom's chain rattle and feel
sure it was not his very self.
They nursed me carefully, and I lay thinking of the "little ones sick
and in prison." Old Martha came and plead with me. I saw Liza and Maria
under the lash for the crime of chastity, and myself the accomplice of
their brutal masters. I pictured one of them a member of the M.E.
Church, appealing to that church for redress and spurned under the
"Black Gag," and I? why I had been helping men who voted for it to build
a meeting-house! What was Peter's denial compared to mine?
The case arranged itself in my mind. I had writing materials brought,
and there, with my head fast on the pillow, I wrote a hexameter rhyme
half a column long, arraigning by name those Black Gag preachers,
painting the scene, and holding them responsible. I signed my initials,
and sent it to Mr. Fleeson, with a note telling him to give my name if
it was inquired for.
Our "Spirit" did not come that week; but soon my husband came to my room
with a copy of "The Pittsburg Gazette," in which was an editorial and
letter full of pious horror and denunciation of that article, and
giving my name as the author; so that we knew Mr. Fleeson had published
the name in full. This was my first appearance in print over my own
signature, and while I was shocked, my husband was delighted, even
though he knew a libel suit was threatened. I soon went to Pittsburg,
saw William Elder and John A. Wills, the only anti-slavery lawyers in
the city. They said the article was actionable, for it had brought those
men into contempt. Elder added: "They are badly hurt, or they would not
cry out so loud."
Both tendered their gratuitous services for my defense. In a civil suit
we could prove the truth of the charge, and they could get nothing, for
my husband owned no property--everything belonged to his mother--and my
trustees could not be held for my misdeeds. Their action would doubtless
be criminal, and I would probably be imprisoned. I went home and wrote a
reply to the _Gazette_, which it refused to publish, but it appeared in
the _Spirit_. I reiterated, urged and intensified my charges against
these false priests, until they were dumb about their injuries and libel
suit, but of that original article I never could get a copy. Every one
had been sold and resold, and read to rags, before I knew it was in
I continued to write for the "Spirit," but still there did not seem to
be anything I could do for the slave. As soon as I was able to be about
the house, I fell into my old round of drudgery, but with hope and pride
shut out of it. Once my burden pressed so that I could not sleep, and
rose at early dawn, and sat looking over the meadow, seeing nothing but
a dense, white fog. I leaned back, closed my eyes and thought how like
it was to my own life. When I looked again, oh, the vision of glory
which, met my sight!
The rising sun had sent, through an opening in the woods, a shaft of
light, which centred on a hickory tree that stood alone in the meadow,
and was then in the perfection of its golden autumn glory. It dripped
with moisture, blazed and shimmered. The high lights were diamond
tipped, and between them and the deepest shadow was every tint of orange
and yellow, mingled and blended in those inimitable lines of natural
foliage. Over it, through it, and around it, rolled the white fog, in
great masses, caressing the earth and hanging from the zenith, like the
veil of the temple of the Most High. All around lay the dark woods,
framing in the vision like serried ranks encompassing a throne, to which
great clouds rolled, then lifted and scudded away, like couriers coming
for orders and hastening to obey them.
John's New Jerusalem never was so grand! No square corners and
forbidding walls. The gates were not made of several solid pearls, but
of millions of pearletts, strung on threads of love, offering no
barriers through which any soul might not pass. My Patmos had been
visited and I could dwell in it, work and wait; but I would live in it,
not lie in a tomb, and once more I took hold of life.
I organized a society at which we read, had refreshments and
danced--yea, broke church rules and practiced promiscuous dancing minus
promiscuous kissing. Of course this was wicked. I roamed the woods,
brought wild flowers and planted them, set out berry bushes, and
collected a large variety of roses and lilies.
MEXICAN WAR.--AGE, 30-32.
James G. Birney was the presidential candidate of the "Liberty Party" in
1844, as he had been in '40. During the campaign I wrote under my
initials for _The Spirit of Liberty_, and exposing the weak part of an
argument soon came to be my recognized forte. For using my initials I
had two reasons--my dislike and dread of publicity and the fear of
embarrassing the Liberty Party with the sex question. Abolitionists were
men of sharp angles. Organizing them was like binding crooked sticks in
a bundle, and one of the questions which divided them was the right of
women to take any prominent part in public affairs.
In that campaign, the great Whig argument against the election of Polk
was, that it would bring on a war with Mexico for the extension of
slavery, and when the war came, Whigs and Liberty Party men vied with
each other in their cry of "Our Country, right or wrong!" and rushed
into the army over every barrier set up by their late arguments. The
nation was seized by a military madness, and in the furore, the cause of
the slave went to the wall, and _The Spirit of Liberty_ was
discontinued. Its predecessor, _The Christian Witness_, had failed under
the successive management of William Burleigh, Dr. Elder, and Rev.
Edward Smith, three giants in those days, and there seemed no hope that
any anti-slavery paper could be supported in Pittsburg, while all
anti-slavery matter was carefully excluded from both religious and
secular press. It was a dark day for the slave, and it was difficult to
see hope for a brighter. To me, it seemed that all was lost, unless some
one were especially called to speak that truth, which alone could make
the people free, but certainly I could not be the messenger.
For years there had ran through my head the words, "Open thy mouth for
the dumb, plead the cause of the poor and needy." The streams sang them,
the winds shrieked them, and now a trumpet sounded them, but the words
could not mean more than talking in private. I would not, could not,
believe they meant more, for the Bible in which I read them bid me be
silent. My husband wanted me to lecture as did Abbey Kelley, but I
thought this would surely be wrong. The church had silenced me so
effectuately, that even now all my sense of the great need of words
could not induce me to attempt it; but if I could "plead the cause"
through the press, I must write. Even this was dreadful, as I must use
my own name, for my articles would certainly be libelous. If I wrote at
all, I must throw myself headlong into the great political maelstrom,
and would of course be swallowed up like a fishing-boat in the great
Norway horror which decorated our school geographies; for no woman had
ever done such a thing, and I could never again hold up my head under
the burden of shame and disgrace which would be heaped upon me. But what
matter? I had no children to dishonor; all save one who had ever loved
me were dead, and she no longer needed me, and if the Lord wanted some
one to throw into that gulf, no one could be better spared than I.
_The Pittsburg Commercial Journal_ was the leading Whig paper of western
Pennsylvania, Robert M. Riddle, its editor and proprietor. His mother
was a member of our church, and I thought somewhere in his veins must
stir anti-slavery blood. So I wrote a letter to the _Journal_, which
appeared with an editorial disclaimer, "but the fair writer should have
a hearing." This letter was followed by another, and they continued to
appear once or twice a week during several months.
I do not remember whom I attacked first, but from first to last my
articles were as direct and personal as Nathan's reproof to David. Of
slavery in the abstract I knew nothing. There was no abstraction in
tying Martha to a whipping-post and scourging her for mourning the loss
of her children. The old Kentucky saint who bore the torture of lash and
brine all that bright Sabbath day, rather than "curse Jesus," knew
nothing of the abstraction of slavery, or the finespun theories of
politeness which covered the most revolting crimes with pretty words.
This great nation was engaged in the pusillanimous work of beating poor
little Mexico--a giant whipping a cripple. Every man who went to the
war, or induced others to go, I held as the principal in the whole list
of crimes of which slavery was the synonym. Each one seemed to stand
before me, his innermost soul laid bare, and his idiosyncrasy I was sure
to strike with sarcasm, ridicule solemn denunciations, old truths from
Bible and history and the opinions of good men. I had a reckless
abandon, for had I not thrown myself into the breach to die there, and
would I not sell my life at its full value?
My style I caught from my crude, rural surroundings, and was familiar to
the unlearned, and I was not surprised to find the letters eagerly read.
The _Journal_ announced them the day before publication, the newsboys
cried them, and papers called attention to them, some by daring to
indorse, but more by abusing Mr. Riddle for publishing such unpatriotic
and "incendiary rant." In quoting the strong points, a venal press was
constrained to "scatter the living coals of truth." The name was held to
be a _nom de plume_, for in print it looked so unlike the common
pronunciation of that of one of the oldest families in the county that
it was not recognized. Moreover, it must be a disguise adopted by some
man. Wiseacres, said one of the county judges. No western Pennsylvania
woman had ever broken out of woman's sphere. All lived in the very
centre of that sacred enclosure, making fires by which, husbands,
brothers and sons sat reading the news; each one knowing that she had a
soul, because the preacher who made his bread and butter by saving it
had been careful to inform her of its existence as preliminary to her
knowledge of the indispensable nature of his services.
But the men whom I ridiculed and attacked knew the hand which, held the
mirror up to nature, and also knew they had a legal remedy, and that to
their fines and imprisonment I was as indifferent as to their opinions.
One of these, Hon. Gabriel Adams, had taken me by the hand at father's
funeral, led me to a stranger and introduced me as:
"The child I told you of, but eight years old, her father's nurse and
He had smoothed my hair and told me not to cry; God would bless me for
being a good child. He was a member of the session when I joined church;
his voice in prayer had soothed mother's hard journey through the dark
valley; and now, as mayor of the city, had ordered its illumination in
honor of the battle of Buena Vista, and this, too, on Saturday evening,
when the unholy glorification extended into the Sabbath. Measured by the
standards of his profession as an elder in the church, whose highest
judicatory had pronounced slavery and Christianity incompatible; no one
was more valuable than he, and of none was I so unsparing, yet as I
wrote, the letter was blistered with tears; but his oft repeated comment
"Jane is right," and he went out of his way to take my hand and say,
"You were right."
Samuel Black, a son of my pastor, dropped his place as leader of the
Pittsburg bar and rushed to the war. My comments were thought severe,
even for me, yet the first intimation I had that I had not been cast
aside as a monster, came from his sister, who sent me a message that her
father, her husband and herself, approved my criticism. Samuel returned
with a colonel's commission, and one day I was about to pass him without
recognition, where he stood on the pavement talking to two other
lawyers, when he stepped before me and held out his hand. I drew back,
and he said: "Is it possible you will not take my hand?"
I looked at it, then into his manly, handsome face, and answered:
"There is blood on it; the blood of women and children slain at their
own altars, on their own hearthstones, that you might spread the
glorious American institution of woman-whipping and baby-stealing."
"Oh," he exclaimed, "This is too bad! I swear to you I never killed a
woman or a child."
"Then you did not fight in Mexico, did not help to bombard Buena Vista."
His friends joined him, and insisted that I did the Colonel great wrong,
when he looked squarely into my face and, holding out his hand, said:
"For sake of the old church, for sake of the old man, for sake of the
old times, give me your hand."
I laid it in his, and hurried away, unable to speak, for he was the most
eloquent man in Pennsylvania. He fell at last at the head of his
regiment, while fighting in the battle of Fair Oaks, for that freedom he
had betrayed in Mexico.
When Kossuth was on his starring tour in this country, he used to create
wild enthusiasm by "Your own late glorious struggle with Mexico;" but
when he reached that climax in his Pittsburg speech a dead silence fell
upon the vast, cheering audience.
The social ostracism I had expected when I stepped into the political
arena, proved to be Bunyan lions. Instead of shame there came such a
crop of glory that I thought of pulling down my barns and building
greater, that I might have where to store my new goods. Among the press
notices copied by the _Journal_ was this:
"The _Pittsburg Commercial Journal_ has a new contributor who signs her
name 'Jane G. Swisshelm,' dips her pen in liquid gold, and sands her
paper with the down from butterflies' wings."
This troubled me, because it seemed as though I had been working for
praise; still the pretty compliment gratified me.
Paul fought with beasts at Ephesus, as a part of his training for that
"good fight" with principalities and powers and iniquity in high places,
and I think that Tom and the bears helped to prepare me for a long
conflict with the southern tiger. I had early come to think that Tom
would kill some of the children who trooped to see him, and that I
should be responsible as I alone saw the danger. This danger I sought to
avert, but how to dispose of the beautiful creature I could not
conjecture. There was usually a loaded gun in the house, but I was
almost as much afraid of it as of Tom. All our neighbors were delighted
with him and loath to have him killed. I had once tried to poison a cat
but failed, and I would not torture Tom. I wanted Dr. Palmer to give me
a dose for him, but he declined. I tried in vain to get some one to
shoot him. Then I thought of striking the great beast on the head with a
hatchet, while he had hold of some domestic animal. The plan seemed
feasible, but I kept my own council and my hatchet, and practiced with
it until I could hit a mark, and thought I could bury the sharp blade
in Tom's skull.
One day, all the men were in the meadow making hay, and I alone getting
dinner. John McKelvey came with his great dog, Watch. He went up into
the meadow, and Watch staid in the kitchen. I started to go to the
garden for parsley, and found Tom crouched to spring on a cow. He made
the leap, came short of the cow, which ran away bellowing with terror,
and Tom had but touched the ground when Watch sprang upon him. It was a
sight for an amphitheatre. The two great creatures rolled in a struggle,
which I knew must be fatal to Watch, but thought he could engage Tom's
attention until I got my hatchet. I ran back for it, took the
dinner-horn and blew a blast that would bring one man, and I did not
want a thousand. Then I ran back to the scene of conflict, horn in one
hand, hatchet in the other, and lo! no conflict was there. No Tom! no
dog! nothing but the torn and bloody ground. Horror of horrors, there
was a broken chain! Tom loose! Tom free! Now some one would be murdered.
I turned to look, and there on a log not a rod from me, he stood with
head erect and tail drooping, his white throat, jaws and broken chain
dripping with blood, and with my first thankfulness that he had not
escaped, came admiration for the splendid sight: the bold, sweeping
curves and graceful motion as he turned his head to listen. Then I
learned panthers went by sound, not scent. I blew another blast on the
horn and went toward him, for I must not lose sight of him. If he
attacked me, could I defend myself with the hatchet? When they found me
I would be horrible to look upon, and it would kill Elizabeth. Will my
peas burn? The flies will get into that pitcher of cream. If I am
killed, they will forget to put parsley in the soup. Tom changed his
weight from one fore-claw to the other, and gnashed his teeth. "Here,
the king and I are standing face and face together; King Tom, how is
your majesty, it's mighty pleasant weather."
So ran my thoughts in the intense strain of that waiting. It must be
full ten minutes before Tom's master could get to the house after that
first blast, and if he did not hear that, must be too late; but Tom kept
his place and my husband rushed by me, carrying the pitchfork with which
he had been at work, and I saw no more until Tom was in his cage. Watch
had dragged himself to his master's feet to die, and I went into the
house and finished getting dinner, more than ever afraid of Tom and more
than ever at a loss to know how to get rid of him. Yet he still lived
and rattled his chain by the garden path, but it was a year before our
One summer morning at sunrise I was shocked out of sleep by shrieks and
shouts and scurrying feet. I sprang out of bed and rushed into the hall
in time to see Tom dash out of it into the dining-room, mother-in-law
and the girl disappearing up stairs and the two hired men through the
barn door. My husband soon followed Tom, who had taken refuge under a
large heavy falling-leaf table, and seemed inclined to stay there. This
time his collar was broken and feeling the advantage he paid no heed to
the hand or voice of his quandom master. He would not move, but growled
defiance, and the table protected him from a blow under the ear, so his
late master became utterly nonplussed. If the cage were there, the great
beast would probably go into it, but how get it there? The wealth of
India would not have induced one of those men to come out of that barn,
or one of those women to come down those stairs.
Something must be done, and I proposed to hold Tom while my husband
brought the cage. He hesitated. I was not in good fighting trim, for my
hair which was long and heavy had fallen loose, but preparation could
avail nothing. The only hope lay in perfect coolness and a steady gaze.
I knelt and took hold of Tom by the back of the neck, talked to him and
thought that cage was long in coming. He shifted his weight and seemed
about to get up. This meant escape, and I held him hard, commanding him
to "lie down, sir." He blinked at me, seemed quite indifferent and
altogether comfortable. By and by, the man who had ceased to be master
returned without the cage, utterly demoralized; and was here without a
weapon, without a plan. I resigned my place and told him I would bring a
rope. This I intended to do, and also my hatchet.
I had but gotten half way to the front door when there was a scuffle,
the loud voice of my husband, shrieks up stairs, rattling of furniture
and crashing of glass, and when I got back to the room I saw the tip of
Tom's tail disappearing. He had gone through the window and taken the
sash with him. He ran into his cage, and that was his last taste of
liberty; but he lived a year after, chained in a corn crib. Every
evening in the gloaming he would pace back and forth, raise his kingly
head, utter his piercing shriek, then stop and hark for a response; walk
again, shriek and listen, while the bears would bellow an answer.
The bears, too, were often exciting and interesting. Once I rescued a
toddling child when running towards "big bear," and not more than two
feet from where he stood waiting with hungry eyes. At another time, they
both broke loose, on a bitter cold day when I was alone in the house. I
defended myself with fire, meeting them at every door and window with a
hickory brand. I wondered as they went round and round the house, if
they would stop in the chimney corner, and make the acquaintance of Tom;
but they took no notice of him, and after they had eaten several buckets
of porridge, they concluded there was nothing in the house they wanted,
so became good natured and went and climbed a tree.
Such schoolmasters must have imparted a flavor of savagery to my Mexican
war letters, which attracted readers as they did visitors.
RIGHTS OF MARRIED WOMEN.
After mother's death, I prosecuted to a successful issue a suit for the
recovery of the house in which I was born. It stood on Water street,
near Market, and our lawyer, Walter Lowrie, afterwards supreme judge,
was to have given us possession of the property on the 1st of July,
1845, which would add eight hundred dollars a year to the income of my
sister and myself. But on the 10th of April, the great fire swept away
the building and left a lot bearing ground rent. Property rose and we
had a good offer for the lease. Every one was willing to sell, but the
purchasers concluded that both our husbands must sign the deed. To this
no objection was made, and we met, in William Shinn's office, when my
husband refused to sign unless my share of the purchase money were paid
Mother's will was sacred to me. The money he proposed to put in
improvements on the Swissvale mills. These, in case of his death before
his mother, would go to his brothers. I had not even a dower right in
the estate, and already the proceeds of my labor and income from my
separate estate were put upon it. I refused to give him the money, and
on my way alone from the lawyer's office it occurred to me that all the
advances made by humanity had been through the pressure of injustice,
and that the screws had been turned on me that I might do something to
right the great wrong which forbade a married woman to own property. So,
instead of spending my strength quarreling with the hand, I would strike
for the heart of that great tyranny.
I borrowed books from Judge Wilkins, took legal advice from Colonel
Black, studied the laws under which I lived, and began a series of
letters in the _Journal_ on the subject of a married woman's right to
hold property. I said nothing of my own affairs and confined myself to
general principles, until a man in East Liberty furnished me an
illustration, and with it I made the cheeks of men burn with anger and
The case was that of a young German merchant who married the daughter of
a wealthy farmer. Her father gave her a handsome outfit in clothes and
furniture. She became ill soon after marriage, her sister took her place
as housekeeper and nursed her till she died, after bequeathing the
clothes and furniture to the sister; but the sorrowing husband held fast
to the property and proposed to turn it into money. The father wanted it
as souvenirs of his lost child, and tried to purchase of him, but the
husband raised the price until purchase was impossible, when he
advertised the goods for sale at vendue. The father was an old citizen,
highly respected, and so great contempt and indignation was felt, that
at the vendue no one would bid against him, so the husband's father came
forward and ran up the price of the articles. When her riding dress, hat
and whip were held up, there was a general cry of shame. The incident
came just in time for my purpose, so I turned every man's scorn against
himself, said to them:
"Gentlemen, these are your laws! Your English ancestors made them! Your
fathers brought them across the water and planted them here, where they
flourish like a green bay tree. You robbed that wife of her right to
devise her own property--that husband is simply your agent."
Lucretia Mott and Mary A. Grew, of Philadelphia, labored assiduously for
the same object, and in the session of '47 and '48, the legislature of
Pennsylvania secured to married women the right to hold property.
Soon after the passage of the bill, William A. Stokes said to me: "We
hold you responsible for that law, and I tell you now, you will live to
rue the day when you opened such a Pandora's box in your native state,
and cast such an apple of discord into every family in it."
His standing as a lawyer entitled his opinion to respect, and as he went
on to explain the impossibility of reconciling that statute with, the
general tenor of law and precedent, I was gravely apprehensive. The
public mind was not prepared for so great a change; there had been no
general demand for it; lawyers did not know what to do with it, and
judges shook their heads. Indeed, there was so much doubt and opposition
that I feared a repeal, until some months after Col. Kane came to me and
"There is a young lawyer from Steubenville named Stanton who would like
to be introduced to you."
I was in a gracious mood and consented to receive the young lawyer named
Stanton. As he came into the room and advanced toward me, immediately I
felt myself in the presence of a master mind, of a soul born to command.
When introduced he gravely took my hand, and said:
"I called to congratulate you upon the passage of your bill. It is a
change I have long desired to see."
We sat and talked on the subject some time, and my fears vanished into
thin air. If this man had taken that law into favor it would surely
stand, and as he predicted be "improved and enlarged." I have never been
so forcibly impressed by any stranger. His compactness of body and soul,
the clear outlines of face and figure, the terseness of his sentences,
and firmness yet tenderness of his voice, were most striking; and as he
passed down the long room after taking leave my thought was:
"Mr. Stanton you have started for some definite point in life, some high
goal, and you will reach it."
This was prophetic, for he walked into the War Department of this nation
at a time when it is probable no other man in it, could have done the
work there which freedom demanded in her hour of peril, for this young
man was none other than Edwin M. Stanton, the Ajax of the great
THE PITTSBURG SATURDAY VISITER.
After the war, abolitionists began to gather their scattered forces and
wanted a Liberty Party organ. To meet this want, Charles P. Shiras
started the _Albatross_ in the fall of '47. He was the "Iron City Poet,"
author of "Dimes and Dollars" and "Owe no Man a Dollar." He was of an
old and influential family, had considerable private fortune, was
courted and flattered, but laid himself and gifts on the altar of
Liberty. His paper was devoted to the cause of the slave and of the free
laborer, and started with bright prospects. He and Mr. Fleeson urged me
to become a regular contributor, but Mr. Riddle objected, and the
_Journal_ had five hundred readers for every one the _Albatross_ could
hope. In the one I reached the ninety and nine unconverted, while in the
other I must talk principally to those who were rooted and grounded in
the faith. So I continued my connection with the _Journal_ until I met
James McMasters, a prominent abolitionist, who said sorrowfully: "Well,
the last number of the _Albatross_ will be issued on Thursday."
"Is it possible?"
"Possible and true! That is the end of its first quarter, and Shiras
gives it up. In fact we all do. No use trying to support an abolition
While he spoke a thought struck me like a lightning flash, and he had
but finished speaking, when I replied:
"I have a great notion to start a paper myself."
He was surprised, but caught at the idea, and said:
"I wish you would. You can make it go if anybody can, and we'll do all
we can to help you."
I did not wait to reply, but hurried after my husband, who had passed
on, soon overtook and told him the fate of the _Albatross_. For this he
was sorry, for he always voted a straight abolition ticket. I repeated
to him what I had said to Mr. McMasters, when he said:
"Nonsense!" then reflected a little, and added, "Well, I do not know
after all but it would be a good idea. Riddle makes lots of money out of
When we had talked about five minutes, he turned to attend to business
and I went to the _Journal_ office. I found Mr. Riddle in his sanctum,
and told him the _Albatross_ was dead; the Liberty Party without an
organ, and that I was going to start the _Pittsburg Saturday Visitor;_
the first copy must be issued Saturday week, so that abolitionists would
not have time to be discouraged, and that I wanted him to print my
He had pushed his chair back from his desk, and sat regarding me in
utter amazement while I stated the case, then said:
"What do you mean? Are you insane? What does your husband say?"
I said my husband approved, the matter was all arranged, I would use my
own estate, and if I lost it, it was nobody's affair.
He begged me to take time to think, to send my husband to him, to
consult my friends. Told me my project was ruinous, that I would lose
every dollar I put into it, and begged, entreated me to take time; but
all to no purpose, when a bright idea came to him.
"You would have to furnish a desk for yourself, you see there is but one
in this room, and there is no other place for you. You could not conduct
a paper and stay at home, but must spend a good deal of time here!"
Then I suddenly saw the appalling prospect thus politely presented. I
had never heard of any woman save Mary Kingston working in an office.
Her father, a prominent lawyer, had employed her as his clerk, when his
office was in their dwelling, and the situation was remarkable and very
painful; and here was I, looking not more than twenty, proposing to come
into the office of the handsome stranger who sat bending over his desk
that he might not see me blush for the unwomanly intent.
Mr. Riddle was esteemed one of the most elegant and polished gentlemen
in the city, with fine physique and fascinating manners. He was a man of
the world, and his prominence had caused his name to become the target
for many an evil report in the bitter personal conflicts of political
life. I looked the facts squarely in the face and thought:
"I have been publicly asserting the right of woman to earn a living as
book-keepers, clerks, sales-women, and now shall I shrink for fear of a
danger any one must meet in doing as I advised? This is my Red Sea. It
can be no more terrible than the one which confronted Israel. Duty lies
on the other side, and I am going over! 'Speak unto the children of
Israel that they go forward.' The crimson waves of scandal, the white
foam of gossip, shall part before me and heap themselves up as walls on
So rapidly did this reflection pass through my mind, or so absorbed was
I with it, that there had been no awkward pause when I replied:
"I will get a desk, shall be sorry to be in your way, but there is
plenty of room and I can be quiet."
He seemed greatly relieved, and said cheerfully:
"Oh yes, there is plenty of room, I can have my desk moved forward and
take down the shutters, when there will be plenty of light. Heretofore
you have been Jove thundering from a cloud, but if you will come down to
dwell with mortals we must make a place for you."
Taking down the shutters meant exposing the whole interior of the room
to view, from a very public street; and after he had exhausted every
plea for time to get ready, he engaged to have the first copy of the
_Visiter_ printed on the day I had set. He objected to my way of
spelling the word, but finding I had Johnson for authority, would
arrange the heading to suit. I was in a state of exaltation all
forenoon, and when I met my husband at dinner, the reaction had set in,
and I proposed to countermand the order, when he said emphatically:
"You will do no such thing. The campaign is coming, you have said you
will start a paper, and now if you do not, I will."
The coming advent was announced, but I had no arrangements for securing
either advertisements or subscribers. Josiah King, now proprietor of the
_Pittsburg Gazette_ and James H. McClelland called at the _Journal_
office and subscribed, and with these two supporters, the _Pittsburg
Saturday Visiter_, entered life. The mechanical difficulty of getting
out the first number proved to be so great that the forms were not on
the press at 3 P.M. By five the streets were so blocked by a waiting
crowd, that vehicles went around by other ways, and it was six o'clock,
Jan. 20th, 1848, when the first copy was sold at the counter. I was in
the editorial room all afternoon, correcting proof to the last moment,
and when there was nothing more I could do, was detained by the crowd
around the doors until it was after eleven.
Editors and reporters were gathered in the sanctum, and Mr. Riddle stood
by his desk pointing out errors to some one who should have prevented
them, when I had my wraps on ready to start. Mr. Fleeson, then a clerk
on the _Journal_, stepped out, hat in hand, and bowing to the
"Mr. Riddle, it is your privilege to see Mrs. Swisshelm to her lodgings,
but as you seem to decline, I hope you will commission me."
Mr. Fleeson was a small man and Mr. Riddle had drawn himself to his full
height and stood looking down at him, saying:
"I want it distinctly understood that Mrs. Swisshelm's relations in this
office are purely those of business. If she requires anything of any man
in it, she will command him and her orders shall be obeyed. She has not
ordered my attendance, but has kept her servant here all the evening to
see her to her friend's house, and this should be sufficient notice to
any gentleman that she does not want him."
During the ten years we used the same editorial-room. Mr. Riddle was
often absent on the days I must be there, and always secured plenty of
light by setting away the shutters when I entered. He generally made it
necessary for me to go to his house and settle accounts, and never found
it convenient to offer his escort to any place unless accompanied by his
The _Visiter_ was three years old when he turned one day, examined me
critically, and exclaimed:
"Why do you wear those hideous caps? You seem to have good hair. Mrs.
Riddle says she knows you have, and she and some ladies were wondering
only yesterday, why you do make yourself such a fright."
The offending cap was a net scarf tied under the chin, and I said, "You
know I am subject to quinsy, and this cap protects my tonsils."
He turned away with a sigh, and did not suspect that my tonsils had no
such protection outside the office, where I must meet a great many
gentlemen and make it apparent that what I wanted of them was votes!
votes!! Votes for the women sold on the auction block, scourged for
chastity, robbed of their children, and that admiration was no part of
Any attempt to aid business by any feminine attraction was to my mind
revolting in the extreme, and certain to bring final defeat. In nothing
has the church of Rome shown more wisdom than in the costume of her
female missionaries. When a woman starts out in the world on a mission,
secular or religious, she should leave her feminine charms at home. Had
I made capital of my prettiness, I should have closed the doors of
public employment to women for many a year, by the very means which now
makes them weak, underpaid competitors in the great workshop of the
One day Mr. Riddle said:
"I wish you had been here yesterday. Robert Watson called. He wanted to
congratulate us on the relations we have for so long maintained. We have
never spoken of it, but you must have known the risk of coming here. He
has seen it, says he has watched you closely, and you are an exception
to all known law, or the harbinger of a new era in human progress."
Robert Watson was a retired lawyer of large wealth, who watched the
world from his study, and philosophized about its doings; and when Mr.
Riddle had given me this conclusion, the subject was never again
referred to in our years of bargaining, buying and selling, paying and
RECEPTION OF THE VISITER.
While preparing matter for the first number of the _Visiter_, I had time
to think that so far as any organization was concerned, I stood alone. I
could not work with Garrison on the ground that the Constitution was
pro-slavery, for I had abandoned that in 1832, when our church split on
it and I went with the New School, who held that it was then
anti-slavery. The Covenanters, before it was adopted, denounced it as a
"Covenant with death and an agreement with hell." I had long ago become
familiar with the arguments on that side, and I concluded they were
fallacious, and could not go back to them even for a welcome into the
The political action wing of the anti-slavery party had given formal
notice that no woman need apply for a place among them. True, there was
a large minority who dissented from this action, but there was division
enough, without my furnishing a cause for contention. So I took pains to
make it understood that I belonged to no party. I was fighting slavery
on the frontier plan of Indian warfare, where every man is
Captain-lieutenants, all the corporals and privates of his company. I
was like the Israelites in the days when there was no king, and "every
man did that which, was right in his own eyes."
It seemed good unto me to support James G. Birney, for President, and to
promulgate the principles of the platform on which he stood in the last
election. This I would do, and no man had the right or power to stop
me. My paper was a six column weekly, with a small Roman letter head, my
motto, "Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward," the
names of my candidates at the head of the editorial column and the
platform inserted as standing matter.
It was quite an insignificant looking sheet, but no sooner did the
American eagle catch sight of it, than he swooned and fell off his
perch. Democratic roosters straightened out their necks and ran
screaming with terror. Whig coons scampered up trees and barked
furiously. The world was falling and every one had "heard it, saw it,
and felt it."
It appeared that on some inauspicious morning each one of three-fourths
of the secular editors from Maine to Georgia had gone to his office
suspecting nothing, when from some corner of his exchange list there
sprang upon him such a horror as he had little thought to see.
A woman had started a political paper! A woman! Could he believe his
eyes? A woman! Instantly he sprang to his feet and clutched his
pantaloons, shouted to the assistant editor, when he, too, read and
grasped frantically at his cassimeres, called to the reporters and
pressmen and typos and devils, who all rushed in, heard the news, seized
their nether garments and joined the general chorus, "My breeches! oh,
my breeches!" Here was a woman resolved to steal their pantaloons, their
trousers, and when these were gone they might cry "Ye have taken away my
gods, and what have I more?" The imminence of the peril called for
prompt action, and with one accord they shouted, "On to the breach, in
defense of our breeches! Repel the invader or fill the trenches with our
"That woman shall not have _my_ pantaloons," cried the editor of the big
city daily; "nor my pantaloons" said the editor of the dignified weekly;
"nor my pantaloons," said he who issued manifestos but once a month;
"nor mine," "nor mine," "nor mine," chimed in the small fry of the
Even the religious press could not get past the tailor shop, and
"pantaloons" was the watchword all along the line. George D. Prentiss
took up the cry, and gave the world a two-third column leader on it,
stating explicitly, "She is a man all but the pantaloons." I wrote to
him asking a copy of the article, but received no answer, when I replied
in rhyme to suit his case:
Perhaps you have been busy
Horsewhipping Sal or Lizzie,
Stealing some poor man's baby,
Selling its mother, may-be.
You say--and you are witty--
That I--and, tis a pity--
Of manhood lack but dress;
But you lack manliness,
A body clean and new,
A soul within it, too.
Nature must change her plan
Ere you can be a man.
This turned the tide of battle. One editor said, "Brother George, beware
of sister Jane." Another, "Prentiss has found his match." He made no
reply, and it was not long until I thought the pantaloon argument was
There was, however, a bright side to the reception of the _Visiter_.
Horace Greeley gave it respectful recognition, so did N.P. Willis and
Gen. Morris in the _Home Journal_. Henry Peterson's _Saturday Evening
Post, Godey's Lady's Book_, Graham's and Sargeant's magazines, and the
anti-slavery papers, one and all, gave it pleasant greeting, while there
were other editors who did not, in view of this innovation, forget that
they were American gentlemen.
There were some saucy notices from "John Smith," editor of _The Great
West_, a large literary sheet published in Cincinnati. After John and I
had pelted each other with paragraphs, a private letter told me that
she, who had then won a large reputation as John Smith, was Celia, who
afterwards became my very dear friend until the end of her lovely life,
and who died the widow of another dear friend, Wm. H. Burleigh.
In the second number of the _Visiter_, James H. McClelland, as secretary
of the county convention, published its report and contributed an able
article, thus recognizing it as the much needed county organ of the
MY CROOKED TELESCOPE.
In the autumn of 1847, Dr. Robert Mitchell, of Indiana, Pa., was tried
in Pittsburg, in the United States Court, before Judge Grier, for the
crime of harboring fugitive slaves. In an old cabin ten miles from
Indiana, on one of the doctor's farms, some colored men had taken refuge
and worked as harvest hands in the neighborhood. To it came the sheriff
at midnight with a posse, and after as desperate a resistance as unarmed
men could make, two were captured. On one of these was found a note:
"Kill a sheep and give Jerry the half.
The name of the man who had the note was Jerry. It was addressed to a
farmer who kept sheep for the doctor, so it was conclusive evidence of
the act charged, and the only defense possible was want of knowledge.
There was no proof that Dr. Mitchell knew Jerry to be a slave, none,
surely, that he knew him to be the property of plaintiff, who was bound
to give notice of ownership before he could be entitled to damages from
This defense Judge Grier overruled, by deciding that no notice was
required, the law presumed a guilty knowledge on the part of defendant.
Under this ruling Dr. Mitchell was fined $5,000 and the costs, which
were $5,000 additional. His homestead and a magnificent tract of pine
land lying on the northern slope of the Alleghenies, were sold by the
sheriff of Indiana county to pay the penalty of this act of Christian
charity; but the Dr. said earnestly, "I'll do it again, if they take
every dollar I have."
This ruling was alarming, for under it, it was unsafe either to sell or
give food or lodging to a stranger. The alarm was general, and even
pro-slavery men regretted that this necessary act of justice should fall
so heavily on so good and gentle a man. There was much unfavorable
comment, but all in private, for the Pittsburg press quailed before
Judge Grier, and libel laws were the weapon with which he most loved to
defend the dignity of the bench. One editor he had kept in jail three
months and ruined his business. Col. Hiram Kane was a brilliant writer,
a poet and pungent paragraphist, and had at one time criticised some of
Judge Grier's decisions, when by a libel suit the Judge had broken up
his business and kept him in jail eighteen months. Public sentiment was
on Kane's side, and he had an ovation on his release, when he became
city editor of the _Journal_.
There was disappointment that I had not criticised Judge Grier's course
in the first number of the _Visiter_, but this was part of my plan. In
the second number I stated that there had been for a long time a great
legal luminary visible in the Pennsylvania heavens, which had suddenly
disappeared. I had been searching for him for several weeks with the
best telescopes in the city, and had about given him up as a lost star,
when I bethought me of Paddy, who had heated his gun-barrel and bent it
around a tree so that he might be able to shoot around corners. Paddy's
idea was so excellent that I had adopted it and made a crooked
telescope, by which I had found that luminary almost sixty degrees below
our moral horizon. From this I proceeded to the merits of the case.
Judge Grier and Dr. Mitchell were both elders in the Presbyterian
church. The Judge administered to men the eucharist oath to follow
Christ, then usurped the law-making power of the United States to punish
them for obeying one of the plainest precepts of the Master.
The article seemed to throw him into a furious passion. He threatened to
sue Mr. Riddle for having the _Visiter_ printed and sold in his office,
and, as for me, I was to suffer all the pains and penalties which law
and public scorn could inflict. He demanded a satisfactory retraction
and apology as the least atonement he could accept for the insult. These
Mr. Riddle promised in my name, and I did not hesitate to make the
My next article was headed "An Apology," and in it I stated the
circumstances which had called it out, and the pleasant prospect of my
being sent to Mount Airy (our county jail) in case this, my apology, was
not satisfactory. I should of course do my best to satisfy his honor,
but in case of failure, should take comfort in the fact that the Mount
would make a good observatory. From that height I should be able to use
my telescope much better than in my present valley of humiliation.
Indeed, the mere prospect had so improved my glass, that I had caught a
new view of our sunken star, and to-day, this dispenser of justice, this
gentleman with the high sense of honor, was a criminal under sentence of
death by the divine law. "He who stealeth a man and selleth him, or if
he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death."
Judge Grier had helped a gang of thieves to steal Jerry, whose ancestors
had been stolen in Africa. The original thief sold all he could
sell--the title of a thief--and as the stream cannot rise above the
fountain, Jerry's master held the same title to him that any man would
to Judge Grier's horse, provided he had stolen it. The purchaser of a
stolen horse acquired no title in him, and the purchaser of a stolen
man acquired no title in him. The man who helped another steal a horse,
was a horse thief, and the man who helped another steal a man, was a man
thief, condemned to death by divine law. Jerry, after having been once
stolen, had recovered possession of himself, and his master and other
thieves had re-stolen him! Judge Grier, with full knowledge of this
fact, had prostituted law for the benefit of the thieves.
Nothing more was heard of a libel suit. Two years after, James McMasters
was sued for harboring a fugitive; was to be tried before Grier, and
spoke to his lawyer about summoning the editor of the _Visiter_. The
"Oh bring her, by all means! No matter what she knows, or whether she
knows anything; bring her into court, and I'll win the case for you.
Grier is more afraid of her than of the devil."
The editor was summoned, gave testimony, and found Judge Grier a most
courteous and considerate gentleman, with no signs of fear. The case
hung on the question of notice. The Judge reversed his former decision,
and those who were apt to feed beggars, breathed more freely.
A case was tried for the remanding of a slave, and lawyer Snowden
appeared for the master. The _Visiter_ sketched the lawyer as his
client's dog, Towser; a dog of the blood-hound breed, with a brand new
brass collar, running with his nose to the ground, while his owner
clapped his hands and shouted: "Seek him, seek him Towser!"
This caught the fancy of the street boys, who called him, "Towser,
where's your collar?" "Seek him, Towser." He was the last Pittsburg
lawyer who took a case against a slave, and public sentiment had so
advanced that there never afterwards was a fugitive taken out of the
MINT, CUMMIN AND ANNIS.
While the bench and bar were thus demanding the attention of the
_Visiter_, the pulpit was examining its morals with a microscope, and
defending the sum of all villainies as a Bible institution. The American
churches, with three exceptions, not only neglected "the weightier
matters of the law, judgment and mercy," but were the main defense of
the grossest injustice, the most revolting cruelty; and, to maintain an
appearance of sanctity, were particularly devout and searching in the
investigation of small sins.
A religions contemporary discovered that the _Visiter_ did actually
advertise "Jayne's Expectorant," and such an expectoration of pious
reprehension as this did call forth! The _Visiter_ denied that the
advertisement was immoral, and carried the war into Africa--that old
man-stealing Africa--and there took the ground that chattel slavery
never did exist among the Jews; that what we now charge upon them as
such was a system of bonded servitude; that the contract was originally
between master and servant; the consideration of the labor paid to the
servant; that in all cases of transfer, the master sold to another that
portion of the time and labor of the servant, which were still due;
that there was no hint of any man selling a free man into slavery for
the benefit of the seller; that the servants bought from "the heathen
around about," were bought from themselves, or in part at least, for
their benefit, to bring them under general law and into the church; that
nothing like American slavery was ever known in the days of Moses, or
any other day than that of this great Republic, since our slavery was
"the vilest that ever saw the sun," John Wesley being witness.
The _Visiter_ cited the purchase by Joseph of the people of Egypt, and
Leviticus xxv, xxxix: "If thy brother be waxen poor and sell himself
unto thee." The Bible had not then been changed to suit the exigencies
of slavery. In later editions, "sell himself" is converted into "be
sold," but as the passage then stood it was a sledge-hammer with which
one might beat the whole pro-slavery Bible argument into atoms, and
while the _Visiter_ used it with all the force it could command, it took
the ground that if the Bible did sanction slavery, the Bible must be
wrong, since nothing could make slavery right.
FREE SOIL PARTY.
The Free Soil or Barnburner party was organized in '48, and nominated
Martin Van Buren for President. The _Visiter_ dropped its Birney flag
and raised the Van Buren standard. In supporting him the editor of the
_Visiter_ was charged with being false to the cause of the slave, and
of playing into the hands of the Whigs. All the editor had ever said
about that pro-slavery ex-President was cast into its teeth by
Democratic, Liberty Party and Garrisonian papers, which, one and all,
held that Van Buren was a cunning old fox, as pro-slavery as in those
days when, as President of the U.S. Senate, he gave his casting vote for
the bill which authorized every Southern post-master to open all the
mail which came to his office, search for and destroy any matter that he
might think dangerous to Southern institutions. In his present hostility
to slavery, he was actuated by personal hatred of Louis Cass, the
Democratic candidate, and sought to draw off enough. Democratic votes to
The object of the _Visiter_ in supporting Van Buren was to smash one of
the great pro-slavery parties of the nation, or gain an anti-slavery
balance of power to counteract the slavery vote for which both
contended. A few thousand reliable votes would compel one party to take
anti-slavery ground. The Van Buren movement was almost certain to defeat
the Democrats, and force the Whigs to seek our alliance. True, the Free
Soil platform did not suit Liberty Party men, who said it simply
proposed to confine slavery to its present limits, and not destroy it
where it already existed.
To all of which, and much more, the little _Visiter_ replied, that with
Van Buren's motives it had nothing to do. His present attitude was one
of hostility to the spread of slavery, and this being a long step in
advance of other parties, was a position desirable to gain and hold. To
decline aiding those who proposed to circumscribe slavery because they
did not propose its destruction, was as if a soldier should refuse to
storm an outpost on the ground that it was not the citadel.
Checking the advance of an enemy was one step toward driving him off the
field, and a rusty cannon might be worth several bright-barreled muskets
in holding him at bay. The Lord punished Israel by the hand of Jehu and
Hazael, both wicked men. Slavery was bursting her bounds, coming over on
us like the sea on Holland. One very dirty shovel might be worth a
hundred silver teaspoons in keeping back the waters, and this Free Soil
party could do more to check its advance than a hundred of the little
Liberty Party with that pure patriot, Gerrit Smith, at its head. In
doing right, take all the help you can get, even from Satan. Let him
assist to carry your burden as long as he will travel your road, and
only be careful not to turn off with him when he takes his own.
The _Visitor_ had thousands of readers scattered over every State and
Territory in the nation, in England and the Canadas. It was quoted more
perhaps than any other paper in the country, and whether for blame or
praise, its sentiments were circulated, and men of good judgment thought
it made thousands of votes for the Free Soil party.
VISIT WASHINGTON.--AGE, 35.
When slavery thought to reap the fruits of the war into which she had
plunged the nation with Mexico, lo! there was a lion in her path, and
not a Bunyan lion either, for this kingly beast wore no collar, no chain
held him. The roused North had laid her great labor paw on the
California gold fields and stood showing her teeth while the serpent
with raised crest was coiled to strike, and the world waited and
Henry Clay, the synonym for compromise, was still in the United States
Senate, and, with his cat-like tread, stepped in between the
belligerents with a cunning device--a device similar to that by which
the boys disposed of the knife they found jointly--one was to own, the
other to carry and use it. So by this plan the lion was to own
California, and the snake was to occupy it as a hunting-ground; nay, not
it alone, but every State and Territory in the Union must be given up to
its slimy purposes. In other words, California was to be admitted as a
free State, upon condition of the passage of the Fugitive Slave Bill,
which authorized the slave-hunter to follow the fugitive into every
home, every spot of this broad land; to tear him from any altar, and
demand the services of every "good citizen" in his hellish work. Men by
thousands, once counted friends of freedom, bowed abjectly to this
Daniel Webster, the leading Whig statesman, made a set speech in favor
of thus giving up the whole country to the dominion of the slave power.
It was another great bid for the next presidential nomination, which
must be controlled by the South. The danger was imminent, the crisis
alarming, and the excitement very great. I longed to be in Washington,
so I wrote to Horace Greeley, who answered that he would pay me five
dollars a column for letters. It was said that this was the first time a
woman had been engaged in that capacity.
I went to Washington in the early part of '50, going by canal to the
western foot of the Alleghenies, and then by rail to the foot of the
inclined plane, where our cars were wound up and let down by huge
windlasses. I was in a whirl of wonder and excitement by this, my first
acquaintance with the iron-horse, but had to stay all night in Baltimore
because the daily train for Washington had left before ours came.
I had letters to the proprietor of the Irving House, where I took board.
Had others to Col. Benton, Henry Clay, and other great men, but he who
most interested me was Dr. Gamaliel Bailey, editor of the _National
Era_. The great want of an anti-slavery paper at the capitol had been
supplied by five-dollar subscriptions to a publication fund, and Dr.
Bailey called from Cincinnati to take charge of it, and few men have
kept a charge with more care and skill. He and the _Era_ had just passed
the ordeal of a frightful mob, in which he was conciliatory, unyielding
and victorious; and he was just then gravely anxious about the great
crisis, but most of all anxious that the _Era_ should do yeoman service
to the cause which had called it into life. The _Era_ had a large
circulation, and high literary standing, but Dr. Bailey was troubled
about the difficulty or impossibility of procuring anti-slavery tales.
Mrs. Southworth was writing serials for it, and he had hoped that she, a
Southern woman with Northern principles, could weave into her stories
pictures of slavery which would call damaging attention to it, but in
this she had failed.
Anti-slavery tales, anti-slavery tales, was what the good Doctor wanted.
Temperance had its story writer in Arthur. If only abolition had a good
writer of fiction, one who could interest and educate the young. He knew
of but one pen able to write what he wanted, and alas, the finances of
the _Era_ could not command it. If only he could engage Mrs. Stowe. I
had not heard of her, and he explained that she was a daughter of Lyman
Beecher. I was surprised and exclaimed:
"A daughter of Lyman Beecher write abolition stories! Saul among the
I reminded the Doctor that President Beecher and Prof. Stowe had broken
up the theological department of Lane Seminary by suppressing the
anti-slavery agitation raised by Theodore Weld, a Kentucky student, and
threw their influence against disturbing the Congregational churches
with the new fanaticism; that Edward Beecher invented the "organic sin,"
devil, behind which churches and individuals took refuge when called
upon to "come up to the help of the Lord against the mighty." But Dr.
Bailey said he knew them personally, and that despite their public
record, they were at heart anti-slavery, and that prudence alone
dictated their course. Mrs. Stowe was a graphic story-teller, had been
in Kentucky, taken in the situation and could describe the peculiar
institution as no one else could. If he could only enlist her, the whole
family would most likely follow into the abolition ranks; but the bounty
money, alas, where could he raise it?
Where there is the will there is a way, and it was but a few months
after that conversation when Dr. Bailey forwarded one hundred dollars to
Mrs. Stowe as a retaining fee for her services in the cause of the
slave, and lo! the result, "Uncle Tom's Cabin." As it progressed he sent
her another, and then another hundred dollars. Was ever money so well
That grand old lion, Joshua R. Giddings, had also passed through the
mob, and as I went with him to be presented to President Taylor, a woman
in the crowd stepped back, drew away her skirts, and with a snarl
"A pair of abolitionists!"
The whole air of Freedom's capital thrilled and palpitated with hatred
of her and her cause. On the question of the pending Fugitive Slave
Bill, the feeling was intense and bitterly partisan, although not a
party measure. Mr. Taylor, the Whig President, had pronounced the bill
an insult to the North, and stated his determination to veto it.
Fillmore, the Vice-President, was in favor of it. So, Freedom looked to
a man owning three hundred slaves, while slavery relied on "a Northern
man with Southern principles." President Taylor was hated by the South,
was denounced as a traitor to his section, while Southern men and women
fawned upon and flattered Fillmore. Webster, the great Whig statesman of
the North, had bowed the knee to Baal, while Col. Benton, of Missouri,
was on the side of Freedom.
The third, or anti-slavery party, represented by Chase and Hale in the
Senate, was beginning to make itself felt, and must be crushed and
stamped out at all hazards--the infant must be strangled in its cradle.
While abolition was scoffed at by hypocritical priests as opening a door
to amalgamation, here, in the nation's capital, lived some of our most
prominent statesmen in open concubinage with negresses, adding to their
income by the sale of their own children, while one could neither go out
nor stay in without meeting indisputable testimony of the truth of
Thomas Jefferson's statement: "The best blood of Virginia runs in the
veins of her slaves." But the case which interested me most was a family
of eight mulattoes, bearing the image and superscription of the great
New England statesman, who paid the rent and grocery bills of their
mother as regularly as he did those of his wife.
Pigs were the scavengers, mud and garbage the rule, while men literally
wallowed in the mire of licentiousness and strong drink. In Congress
they sat and loafed with the soles of their boots turned up for the
inspection of the ladies in the galleries. Their language and gestures
as they expectorated hither and thither were often as coarse as their
positions, while they ranted about the "laws and Constitution," and
cracked their slave-whips over the heads of the dough-faces sent from
the Northern States.
Washington was a great slave mart, and her slave-pen was one of the
most infamous in the whole land. One woman, who had escaped from it, was
pursued in her flight across the long bridge, and was gaining on the
four men who followed her, when they shouted to some on the Virginia
shore, who ran and intercepted her. Seeing her way blocked, and all hope
of escape gone, with one wild cry she clasped her hands above her head,
sprang into the Potomac, and was swept into that land beyond the River
Death, where alone was hope for the American slave. Another woman with
her two children was captured on the steps of the capitol building,
whither she had fled for protection, and this, too, while the stars and
stripes floated over it.
One of President Tyler's daughters ran away with the man she loved, in
order that they might be married, but for this they must reach foreign
soil. A young lady of the White House could not marry the man of her
choice in the United States. The lovers were captured, and she was
brought to His Excellency, her father, who sold her to a slave-trader.
From that Washington slave-pen she was taken to New Orleans by a man who
expected to get twenty-five hundred dollars for her on account of her
My letters to the New York _Tribune_, soon attracted so much attention
that is was unpleasant for me to live in a hotel, and I became the guest
of my friend Mrs. Emma D.E.N. Southworth. It was pleasant to look into
her great, dreamy grey eyes, with their heavy lashes, at the broad
forehead and the clustering brown curls, and have her sit and look into
the fire and talk as she wrote of the strange fancies which peopled her
Among the legislative absurdities which early attracted my attention was
that of bringing every claim against the government before Congress. If
a man thought government owed him ten dollars, the only way was to have
the bill pass both houses. In my _Tribune_ letters, I ventilated that
thoroughly, and suggested a court, in which Brother Jonathan could
appear by attorney. Mr. Greeley seconded the suggestion warmly, and
this, I think, was the origin of the Court of Claims.
There was yet one innovation I wanted to make, although my stay in
Washington would necessarily be short. No woman had ever had a place in
the Congressional reporter's gallery. This door I wanted to open to
them, called on Vice-President Fillmore and asked him to assign me a
seat in the Senate gallery. He was much surprised and tried to dissuade
me. The place would be very unpleasant for a lady, would attract
attention, I would not like it; but he gave me the seat. I occupied it
one day, greatly to the surprise of the Senators, the reporters, and
others on the floor and in the galleries; but felt that the novelty
would soon wear off, and that women would work there and win bread
But the Senate had another sensation that day, for Foot, in a speech
alluded to "the gentleman from Missouri." Benton sprang to his feet, and
started toward him, but a dozen members rushed up to hold him, and he
"Stand off, gentlemen! Unhand me! Let me reach the scoundrel!" Everyone
stamped, and ran, and shouted "Order!" The speaker pounded with his
mallet, and Foot ran down the aisle to the chair, drawing out a great
horse-pistol and cocking it, cried:
"Let him come on, gentlemen! let him come on!" while he increased the
distance between them as fast as time and space would permit. After the
hubbub had subsided, Foot explained:
"Mr. Speaker, I saw the gentleman coming, and I advanced toward the
I have never seen a well-whipped rooster run from his foe, without
thinking of Foot's advance.
Darkest of the dark omens for the slave, in that dark day, was the
defalcation of Daniel Webster. He whose eloquence had secured in name
the great Northwest to freedom, and who had so long been dreaded by the
slave-power, had laid his crown in the dust; had counseled the people of
the North to conquer their prejudices against catching slaves, and by
his vote would open every sanctuary to the bloodhound. The prestige of
his great name and the power of his great intellect were turned over to
slavery, and the friends of freedom deplored and trembled for the
There was some general knowledge through the country of the immorality
of Southern men in our national capital. Serious charges had been made
by abolitionists against Henry Clay, but Webster was supposed to be a
moral as well as an intellectual giant. Brought up in Puritan New
England, he was accredited with all the New England virtues; and when a
Southern woman said to me, in answer to my strictures on Southern men:
"Oh, you need not say anything! Look at your own Daniel Webster!" I
wondered and began to look at and inquire about him, and soon discovered
that his whole panoply of moral power was a shell--that his life was
full of rottenness. Then I knew why I had come to Washington. I gathered
the principal facts of his life at the Capitol, stated them to Dr.
Snodgrass, a prominent Washington correspondent, whose anti-slavery
paper had been suppressed in Baltimore by a mob, to Joshua R. Giddings
and Gamaliel Bailey. They assured me of the truth of what had been told
me, but advised me to keep quiet, as other people had done. I took the
whole question into careful consideration; wrote a paragraph in a letter
to the _Visiter_, stating the facts briefly, strongly; and went to read
it to my friend, Mrs. George W. Julian.
I found her and her husband together, and read the letter to them. They
sat dumb for a moment, then he exclaimed:
"You must not publish that!"
"Is it true?"
"Oh, yes! It is true! But none the less you must not publish it!"
"Can I prove it?"
"No one will dare deny it. We have all known that for years, but no one
would dare to make it public. No good can come of its publication; it
would ruin you, ruin your influence, ruin your work. You would lose
your _Tribune_ engagement, by which you are now doing so much good. We
all feel the help you are to the good cause. Do not throw away your
"Does not the cause of the slave hang on the issue in Congress?"
"I think it does."
"Is not Mr. Webster's influence all against it?"
"Yes, of course!"
"Would not that influence be very much less if the public knew just what
"Of course it would, but you cannot afford to tell them. You have no
idea what his friends would say, what they would do. They would ruin
I thought a moment, and said:
"I will publish it, and let God take care of the consequences."
"Good!" exclaimed Mrs. Julian, clapping her hands. "I would if I were in
But when I went to post the letter, I hesitated, walked back and forth
on the street, and almost concluded to leave out that paragraph. I
shuddered lest Mr. Julian's prediction should prove true. I was
gratified by my position on the _Tribune_--the social distinction it
gave me and courtesy which had been shown me. Grave Senators went out of
their way to be polite, and even pro-slavery men treated me with
distinguished consideration. My Washington life had been eminently
agreeable, and I dreaded changing popularity for public denunciation.
But I remembered my Red Sea, and my motto--"Speak unto the children of
Israel that they go forward." The duty of destroying that pro-slavery
influence was plain. All the objections were for fear of the
consequences to me. I had said God should take care of these, and mailed
the letter, but I must leave Washington. Mr. Greeley should not
discharge me. I left the capitol the day after taking my seat in the
reporter's gallery, feeling that that door was open to other women.
The surprise with which the Webster statement was received was fully
equalled by the storm of denunciation it drew down upon me. The New York
_Tribune_ regretted and condemned. Other secular papers made dignified
protests. The religious press was shocked at my indelicacy, and fellows
of the baser sort improved their opportunity to the utmost. I have never
seen, in the history of the press, such widespread abuse of any one
person as that with which I was favored; but, by a strange fatality, the
paragraph was copied and copied. It was so short and pointed that in no
other way could its wickedness be so well depicted as by making it a
witness against itself.
I had nothing to do but keep quiet. The accusation was made. I knew
where to find the proof if it should be legally called for, and until it
was I should volunteer no evidence, and my witnesses could not be
attacked or discredited in advance. By and by people began to ask for
the contradiction of this "vile slander." It was so circumstantial as to
call for a denial. It could not be set aside as unworthy of attention.
What did it mean? Mr. Webster was a prominent candidate for President.
Would his friends permit this story to pass without a word of denial?
Mr. Julian was right; no one would dare deny the charge. He was,
however, wrong in saying it would ruin me. My motive was too apparent,
and the revelations too important, for any lasting disgrace to attach to
it. On all hands it was assured that the disclosure had had a telling
effect in disposing of a formidable power which had been arrayed against
the slave, as Mr. Webster failed to secure the nomination.
Some one started a conundrum: "Why is Daniel Webster like Sisera?
Because he was killed by a woman," and this had almost as great a run as
the original accusation.
When the National Convention met in Pittsburg, in 1852, to form the Free
Democratic party, there was an executive and popular branch held in
separate halls. I attended the executive. Very few women were present,
and I the only one near the platform. The temporary chairman left the
chair, came to me to be introduced, saying:
"I want to take the hand that killed Daniel Webster."
Henry Wilson was permanent chairman of that convention, and he came,
too, with similar address. Even Mr. Greeley continued to be my friend,
and I wrote for the _Tribune_ often after that time.
FUGITIVE SLAVE LAW.
When it became certain that the Fugitive Slave Bill could pass Congress,
but could not command a two-thirds vote to carry it over the assured
veto of President Taylor, he ate a plate of strawberries, just as
President Harrison had done when he stood in the way of Southern policy,
and like his great predecessor Taylor, died opportunely, when Mr.
Fillmore became President, and signed the bill. When it was the law of
the land, there was a rush of popular sentiment in favor of obedience,
and a rush of slave-catchers to take advantage of its provisions.
Thousands of slaves were returned to bondage. Whigs and Democrats were
still bidding for the Southern vote, and now vied with each other as to
who should show most willingness to aid their Southern brethren in the
recovery of their lost property. The church also rushed to the front to
show its Christian zeal for the wrongs of those brethren, who, by the
escape of their slaves, lost the means of building churches and buying
communion services, and there was no end of homilies on the dishonesty
of helping men to regain possession of their own bodies. All manner of
charges were rung about Onesimus, and Paul became the patron saint of
Among the many devices brought to bear on the consciences of
Pittsburgers, was a sermon preached, as per announcement, by Rev.
Riddle, pastor of the Third Presbyterian church. It was received with
great favor, by his large wealthy congregation, was printed in pamphlet
form, distributed by thousands and made a profound impression, for
Pittsburg is a Presbyterian city, and a sermon by its leading pastor was
convincing. The sermon was an out and out plea for the bill and
obedience to its requirements. Did not Paul return Onesimus to his
master? Were not servants told to obey their masters? Running away was
gross disobedience, etc., etc.
Robt. M. Riddle, in a careful leader in _The Journal_, deprecated the
existence of the law, but since it did exist, counseled obedience. He
was a polished and forcible writer and his arguments had great weight.
The _Visiter_ published an article on "The Two Riddles," in which was
drawn a picture of a scantily clad woman, with bruised and bleeding
feet, clasping an infant to her bosom, panting before her pursuers up
Third street. The master called on all good citizens for help. The cry
reached the ears of the tall editor of the _Journal_ seated at his desk.
He dropped his pen, hastily donned his new brass collar and started in
hot pursuit of this wicked woman, who was feloniously appropriating the
property of her master.
The other Riddle--the Presbyterian pastor--planted himself by the lamp
post on the corner of Third and Market streets, and with spectacles on
nose and raised hands, loudly implored divine blessing on the labors of
his tall namesake. The _Visiter_ concluded by advising masters who had
slaves to catch, to apply to these gentlemen, who would attend to
business from purely pious and patriotic motives.
I did not see Mr. Riddle for two weeks after the publication of the
sketch, and then we met on the street. He had never before been angry
or vexed with me, but now he was both, and said:
"How could you do me such an injustice?"
"Why is it an injustice?"
"Oh you know it is! You know I would cut off my right hand, before I
would aid in capturing a fugitive."
"Then why do you counsel others to do it?"
"Oh you know better! and Rev. Riddle, he and his friends are distressed
about it. You do not know what you have done! I have already had three
letters from the South, asking me to aid in returning fugitives, and he,
too, has had similar applications. Oh it is too humiliating, too bad.
You must set it right!"
I agreed to do so, and the _Visiter_ explained that it had been mistaken
in saying that both or either of the two Riddles would aid in returning
fugitives. They both scorned the business, and Robt. M., would cut off
his right hand, rather than engage in it. He only meant that other
people should do what would degrade him. He was not a good citizen, and
did not intend to be. As for his Reverence, he would shirk his Christian
duties; would not pray by that lamppost, or any other lamp-post, for the
success of slave-catchers. He had turned his back upon Paul, and had
fallen from grace since preaching his famous sermon. The gentlemen had
been accredited with a patriotism and piety of which they were
incapable, and a retraction was necessary; but if any other more
patriotic politician or divine, further advanced in sanctification would
send their names to the _Visiter_, it would notify the South.