Let others accuse me of optimism; I willingly agree to it. I believe that optimism is often right here below. We need hope; we need sometimes to receive good news; we need to see sometimes the bright side of things. The bright side is often the true side; if Love is blindfolded, I see a triple bandage on the eyes of Hate. Kindliness has its privileges; and I do not think myself in a worse position than another to judge the United States because they inspire me with an earnest sympathy; because, after having mourned their faults and trembled at their perils, I have joyfully saluted the noble and manly policy of which the election of Mr. Lincoln is the symptom. Is it not true, that at the first news we all seemed to breathe a whiff of pure and free air from the other side of the ocean?
It is a pleasure, in times like ours, to feel that certain principles still live; that they will be obeyed, cost what it may; that questions of conscience can yet sometimes weigh down questions of profit. The abolition of slavery will be, I have always thought, the principal conquest of the nineteenth century. This will be its recommendation in the eyes of posterity, and the chief compensation for many of its weaknesses. As for us old soldiers of emancipation, who have not ceased to combat for it for twenty years and more, at the tribunal and elsewhere, we shall be excused without doubt for seeing in the triumph of our American friends something else than a subject of lamentation.
If they had not triumphed, do you know who would have gained the victory? Slavery is only a word—a vile word, doubtless, but to which we in time become habituated. To what do we not become habituated? We have stores of indulgence and indifference for the social iniquities which have found their way into the current of cotemporary civilization, and which can invoke prescription. So we have come to speak of American slavery with perfect sang froid. We are not, therefore, to stop at the word, but to go straight to the thing; and the thing is this:
Every day, in all the Southern States, families are sold at retail: the father to one, the mother to another, the son to a third, the young daughter to a fourth; and the father, the mother, the children, are scattered to the four winds of heaven; these hearts are broken, these poor beings are given a prey to infamy and sorrow, these marriages are ruptured, and adulterous unions are formed twenty leagues, a hundred leagues away, in the bosom and with the assent of a Christian community. Every day, too, the domestic slave-trade carries on its work; merchants in human flesh ascend the Mississippi, to seek in the producing States wherewith to fill up the vacuum caused unceasingly by slavery in the consuming States; their ascent made, they scour the farms of Virginia or of Kentucky, buying here a boy, there a girl; and other hearts are torn, other families are dispersed, other nameless crimes are accomplished coolly, simply, legally: it is the necessary revenue of the one, it is the indispensable supply of the others. Must not the South live, and how dares any one travesty a fact so simple? by what right was penned that eloquent calumny called “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”?