I Tried to Make the Letter M

Don’t you hate it when foreigners say bad things about America? Like that Charles Dickens guy who came here in 1842. “This is not the republic I came to see,” he said. “This is not the republic of my imagination.” Like there was something wrong with America.

In fact he kind of suggested that America made him sick to his stomach. He had a pretty good time in Boston and New York, but on the train to DC he met a fellow who had just purchased a woman and her children, but not her husband, and was taking his purchases with him down to Maryland. And he seemed in a real hurry to get there, a “specimen” Dickens called him.

A lot of middle-of-the road Americans took the time and trouble to explain to him that public opinion was a strong force in ensuring that slaveholders treated their slaves decently. And he should have been content with that, as they were.

But he had the audacity to write down in his book, American Notes, some advertisements he found in the newspapers in Washington, D.C. in the very words written down — and paid for — by slave owners seeking to reclaim runaway slaves:

“Ran away, a negro girl called Mary, a good many teeth knocked out, has a scar on her cheek and the end of one of her toes cut off.

“Ran away, Harry, much scarred with the whip.

“Rachel, all her toes cut off,

There’s more than fifty of these advertisements. I guess the one that stands out the most:

“Ran away, a negro woman and two children. A few days before she went off, I burnt her with a hot iron, on the left side of her face. I tried to make the letter M.”

And this Dickens feller took all this completely out of context and tried to make out that there was SOMETHING WRONG WITH AMERICA. Foreigners, they’ll do it every time.