This week’s “150 Years Ago…” column is a bit controversial. We, as Americans, have always been taught that slavery was one of the worst horrors that this country has experienced. Though it may not have been a proverbial walk in the park, slavery, nonetheless, was not the worst occupation in America in 1860. For the Arkansas Civil War buff, the following account from an 1860 Arkansas newspaper shows a much worse fate than that of slavery:
[LITTLE ROCK] ARKANSAS TRUE DEMOCRAT, May 19, 1860, p. 2, c. 3
Every now and then the abolitionists brag of their underground railroad operations, and of the number of slaves forwarded to misery in Canada. The escape of such slaves is held up as evidence that the state of servitude is an unhappy one and the institution of slavery a wrong. Tried by their rule their institutions must be much worse. For every slave that leaves his master at least three apprentices run away from their masters at the North. That they are not pursued and caught is simply because white slave labor is so cheap that another can be procured with less trouble. The master has only to apply to the overseers of the poor and he gets a child for ten or twelve years, for board and clothing. If then, leaving service is any evidence, the apprentice system at the North, must be worse than slavery at the South.
Again: more wives of northern men, in proportion to their numbers, run away from their husbands than slaves from southern masters. Therefore, marriage is a worse institution than African slavery.
The cant about buying and selling men and women and taking them from their families can be answered in the same way. Last year, a fellow advertised for governesses or teachers to come to the South, and actually engaged a dozen or more, took them to New York and decamped with their baggage. A man can go to-day in any of the New England States and hire a hundred young women to leave their relatives and come to the South as teachers, or to be employed in some pursuit followed by females. Five hundred dollars will take the flower of the family from the domestic hearth. Indeed, labor there is so plentiful and so little demand for it that an advertisement for a clerk has been answered in one case by seven hundred persons. Governesses, nurses and female attendants will go all over the world for a less sum yearly than a negro wench hires for at home. After all it is the same. If we called our apprentices, or helps, or even servants, and would drop the word slavery, the cry would cease. As far as the actual servitude goes, the negro of the South does less hard work and is better paid for it than the white laborer at the North.