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 prophets!”
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?