Skip Navigation


Letter, Samuel May to Lydia Maria Child

January 13, 1860

Boyd B. Stutler Collection
Ms78-1


Syracuse, Jan.y 13. 1860.

My dear Friend

There are very few of the children of God or of men, whom I love as much as I do you, and yet I have not, for twenty five years past, been so situated that I could see you, or hear from you, as often as I have wished.

Immediately on my return, last November, I should have written to you - to let you know of my safe arrival, and again thank you for all you did to enable me to make the tour I had done; but I learnt that you were absorbed in the case of John Brown; and I would not, on any account, intrude myself between you and him.

Since I got back to Syracuse, the tide of cares, and duties and sympathies has returned upon me, in an almost overwhelming flood - so that I have again and again been obliged to postpone my intended letter to you.

But now I have a few minutes to spare, and you shall have them.

And first, I must tell you, that I have been delighted with your letters to Gov. Wise, and Mrs Mason. They were models. But I fear the southern slaveholders are so dead in their iniquity, that the truth will have no power over them. Sixty four years ago St George Tucker of Virginia, when there were 300,000 slaves in that state, entreated his fellow citizens immediately to adopt some plan for their entire emancipation - because in sixty, if not thirty years, their numbers would become so enormous, that the difficulty of emancipating would be too appalling to be contemplated. Such is now the predicament of Virginia and of the Slave States generally. You and I can see, that they great change, we demand for the enslaves population, is a very simple and would be a most beneficent one. It was well put by Elizur Wright or Beriah Greene more than twenty five years ago. It is “that they be taken from under Mr Lash and put under Mr Cash”; that they be left to the influence of the same inducements to industry and economy, that have developed the energies of white people; that they be acknowledged to be just what they are - men and not beasts; that their rights as human beings be recognized and secured to them; that the blessings of true education be showered up[on] them - and that they be accepted at any time, as being just what they may be - intelligent, wise, virtuous, holy - if they have become so, - or ignorant foolish, immoral, depraved if they are found so to be. All this seems to us very simple and plain. We foresee, that the wealth of the slave states would be immeasurably enhanced by this change - and that the inhabitants thereof would enjoy a political, social, domestic peace and quiet, of which they know nothing, and never can know, so long as they persist in holding millions of human beings in the unnatural condition of domesticated brutes.

Jany 14. I had written thus far when I was called away from you, by some nearer claimant - and have not been able to steal a moment for you since. Just now your precious note of the 12th was brought to me, and I have seated myself determined to finish my letter to you. But I shall not resume the train of thought, which was broken off above.

I first heard of the affair at Harper’s Ferry on our arrival at Halifax - Nov 3d. The news of it caused a great excitement throughout our ship’s company. All who could get newspapers were seen diligently pouring over them - and various were the comments that came from one and another. I simply said, “whether it be the right method or the wrong one, it is the one, to which the people will soon resort to get rid of slavery, if it be not removed from our midst by milder means. We cannot get over Slavery, nor under it, nor around it, nor through it, we surely cannot get along with it - and therefore we must get rid of it. The slaveholders and their abettors must take their choice whether it shall be effected by mild means or by violent ones - by the “sword of the Lord Gideon” or by the sword of the spirit.” If John Brown erred in the plan which he devised his subsequent conduct has well nigh converted the nation. I believe he was sustained through his last trials and death - by a clear foresight of the effect they were to produce. Well might he have said “and I, if I belifted up will draw all men unto me.” - I thank you for reminding me to write to Mr Stevens. I shall probably do so next week. -


Chapter Thirteen: Toward Civil War

His Soul Goes Marching On

West Virginia Archives and History