Pervasive Evil

I have written before about the disgust with which Charles Dickens viewed American slavery during his first visit in 1842. He saw, just down the street from the US Capitol, the holding pens for slaves being auctioned.

He read the advertisements for runaway slaves marked by the lash and the branding iron and the axe.

He read the statements on the floor of Congress by southern statesmen declaring that anyone espousing the doctrine of abolitionism in their home states would be hanged.

He wrote about the free blacks who were arrested without cause and then sold to pay jail fees, not just in once instance, but many, many times.

He wrote about brutal public murders of black citizens in the “free” states that went unpunished.

We all know that American slavery was disgusting and deplorable and that America was infested by it and was then, as it is now becoming, a disgusting nation whose smelly putrescence made — and makes — a mockery of the lofty ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence.

But one detail that Dickens mentions reminds me that I have never considered HOW disgusting American society was at that time, in spite of its professed love of liberty.

He saw a woman in a park in Washington, D.C., whose little boy was misbehaving. He heard her tell him that if he would be good, she would buy him a whip “to beat the little n—–s with.”