A responsible Eastern lecture-agent offered me one hundred dollars each for three lectures, one in Milwaukee, one in Chicago and one in Cleveland. I wanted to accept, but was overruled by friends, who thought me too feeble to travel alone, and that I would make more by employing an agent. They selected a pious gentleman, whose name I have forgotten, and we left St. Paul at four o’clock one winter morning, in a prairie schooner on bob-sleds, to ride to La Crosse.
One of the passengers was a pompous Southerner, who kept boasting of the “buck niggers” he had sold and the “niggers” he had caught, and his delight in that sort of work. His talk was aimed at me, but he did not address me, and for hours I took no notice; then, after an unusual explosion, I said quietly:
“Can you remember, sir, just exactly how many niggers you have killed and eaten in your day?”
He looked out on the river and seemed to begin a calculation, but must have found the lists of his exploits too long for utterance, for he had spoken not another word when we reached La Crosse, where we took cars for Madison, Wisconsin.
We reached that beautiful city of lakes in time to meet news of the Ft. Donelson fatal victory; that victory made so much worse than a hundred defeats by the return to their masters of the slaves who remained in the fort and claimed the protection of our flag—the victory which converted the great loyal army of the North into a gang of slave-catchers. Alas, my native land! All hope for the preservation of the government died out in my heart. What could a just God want with such a people? What could he do but destroy them?
That victory was celebrated in Madison with appropriate ceremonies. Men got drunk and cursed “niggers and abolitionists,” sat up all night in noisy orgies drinking health and success to him who was the synonym of American glory.
The excitement and sudden revulsion against abolitionists with the total incompetence of my agent, caused a financial failure of my lecture, but I made pleasant friendships with Gov. Harvey, Prof. Carr and their wives.
I started along the route we had come, and everywhere, in cars, hotels, men were hurrahing for Grant and cursing “niggers and abolitionists.”
The hero had healed the breach between the loving brothers of the North and South, who were to rush into each others arms across the prostrate form of Liberty. Thank God for the madness of the South; for that sublime universal government which maketh “the wrath of man to praise him.” Even in that hour of triumph for despotism, I did not doubt but Freedom would march on until no slave contaminated the earth; but before that march this degraded government must share the fate of that other Babylon, which once dealt “in slaves and souls of men.”
My first small town lecture was another financial failure, and in the hall I paid and dismissed that highly respectable incubus—my agent.