As might be surmised, the lessons I learned at school were not all such as are usually acquired at such institutions. My companions were like other children, full of spirit and mischief, and not without their prejudices. They hated Abolitionists because they—the Abolitionists—wanted to compel all white people to marry “niggers.” Although not naturally unkind, they did not always spare the feelings of “the son of an old Abolitionist.” We had our arguments. Some of them were of the knock-down kind. In more than one shindy, growing out of the discussion of the great question of the day, I suffered the penalty of a bloody nose or a blackened eye for standing up for my side.
The feeling against the negroes’ friends—the Abolitionists—was not confined to children in years. It was present in all classes. It entered State and Church alike, and dominated both of them. The Congressional Representative from the district in which I lived in those days was an able man and generally held in high esteem. He made a speech in our village when a candidate for re-election. In discussing the slavery question—everybody discussed it then—he spoke of the negroes as being “on the same footing with other cattle.” I remember the expression very well because it shocked me, boy that I was. It did not disturb the great majority of those present, however. They cheered the sentiment and gave their votes for the speaker, who was re-elected by a large majority.
About the same time I happened to be present where a General Assembly of one of our largest religious denominations was in session, and listened to part of an address by a noted divine—the most distinguished man in the body—which was intended to prove that slavery was an institution existing by biblical authority. He spent two days in a talk that was mostly made up of scriptural texts and his commentaries upon them. This was in Ohio, and there was not a slave-owner in the assembly, and yet a resolution commendatory of the views that had just been declared by the learned doctor, was adopted by an almost unanimous vote.
In the neighborhood in which I lived was an old and much respected clergyman who was called upon to preach a sermon on a day of some national significance. He made it the occasion for a florid panegyric upon American institutions, which, he declared, assured freedom to all men. Here he paused, “When I spoke of all men enjoying freedom under our flag,” he resumed, “I did not, of course, include the Ethiopians whom Providence has brought to our shores for their own good as well as ours. They are slaves by a divine decree. As descendants of Ham, they are under a curse that makes them the servants of their more fortunate white brethren.” Having thus put himself right on the record, he proceeded with his sermon. No one seemed to take exception to what he said.