The intensity—perhaps density would be a better word in this connection—of the prejudice that confronted the Abolitionists when they entered on their work is not describable by any expressions we have in our language. In the South it was soon settled that no man could preach Anti-Slaveryism and live. In the North the conditions were not much better. Every man and woman—because the muster-roll of the Abolition propagandists was recruited from both sexes—carried on the work at the hazard of his or her life. Sneers, scowls, hootings, curses, and rough handling were absolutely certain. One incident throws light on the state of feeling at that time.
When Pennsylvania Hall, which the Abolitionists of Philadelphia—largely Quakers—had erected for a meeting place at a cost of forty thousand dollars was fired by a mob, the fire department of that city threw water on surrounding property, but not one drop would it contribute to save the property of the Abolitionists.
Why was it that this devotion to slavery and this hostility to its opposers prevailed in the non-slaveholding States? They had not always existed. Indeed, there was a time, not so many years before, when slavery was generally denounced; when men like Washington and Jefferson and Henry, although themselves slave-owners, led public opinion in its condemnation. Everybody was anticipating the day of universal emancipation, when suddenly—almost in the twinkling of an eye—there was a change. If it had been a weather-cock—as to a considerable extent it was, and is—public opinion could not have more quickly veered about.
Slavery became the popular idol in the North as well as in the South. Opposition to it was not only offensive, but dangerous. It was sacrilege.
So far as the South was concerned the revolution is easily accounted for. Slavery became profitable. A Yankee magician had touched it with a wand of gold, and from being a languishing, struggling system, it quickly developed into a money-maker.
Whitney, the Connecticut mechanical genius, by the invention of the cotton-gin, made the production of cotton a highly lucrative industry. The price of negroes to work the cotton fields at once went up, and yet the supply was inadequate. Northernly slave States could not produce cotton, but they could produce negroes. They shared in the golden harvest. Such cities as Baltimore, Washington, Richmond, Wheeling, and Louisville became centers of a flourishing traffic in human beings. They had great warehouses, commonly spoken of as “nigger pens,” in which the “hands” that were to make the cotton were temporarily gathered, and long coffles—that is, processions of men and women, each with a hand attached to a common rope or chain—marched through their streets with faces turned southward.