The Liberator - Boston, MA - 19 December 1862


Samuel Wilkeson, Esq., of the New York Tribune, in a letter from the Peninsula, relates the following remarkable conversation held with an intelligent negro on the subject of the slave policy of the Government:—

I have talked with many intelligent men of color on this subject. The superior man of all is known as "Tom." I one day drew him out of his guarded silence on this theme by saying, "I am surprised,Tom, that the negroes in this Peninsula don't fight for us."

"I reckon you ain't, Mr. W.; you know too much."

"Why don't they fight for us, Tom?"

"They expected to, sir, and all the colored men, from here to Texas, expected to."

"Why didn't they?"

"You know as well as I. We were driven from your lines and camps, and pretty plainly told that you didn't want anything to do with us; that you meant to carry on the war, and leave us in slavery at the end of the war. So we left you to carry on the war as you could, and a pretty poor fit you are making of it, too, Mr. W.," said Tom, warming into earnestness. "The North can't conquer the South without the help of the slaves. We men of color, who have communication with each other through all the States, (the leading man, I mean,) know this. We know, too, that if the war lasts, one party or the other party will give us our freedom."

"What is that you say—the slaveholders free their slaves?"

"They certainly will do it, if they can't whip you otherwise. You may depend on that. My friends in the South all tell me so. Our position, Mr. W. is like that of the San Domingo blacks. They put their end in the market between the white and mulattoes—put it for sale. The price was their freedom. We mean to sell ourselves for freedom—we hope to you Northern men. If your politicians and Generals kick us away, we will try to make our market with the rebels. But you had better bargain with us—had better free us, and arm us. How long would this war last, if we were freed by act of Congress and the President's Proclamation—both of them ratified in General Orders by the Commanders of all the Union armies in the South? Why, the rebel armies would melt away in a week. Every officer and every private who had any interest of any kind in a plantation, or village even, would run home to protect it against imagined injury. Consider us armed; there's no use of talking, Mr.W. The revolution at the South is accomplished, and the Union is saved; and you can't save it without the social revolution. And, mark my words, Mr. W., the attempt to save it without doing us justice will end in your own political slavery, and your own ruin, and in this England will be the principal agent.

There are colored men in Washington who know the value of the dinner-table talk of great men, and Jeff. Davis, and Keitt, and Floyd, have always made much of the jealousy in England of the manufactures of your North. You have got to have us, Mr.W. Our climate will kill your troops, save in December, January, February and March. The South is a wilderness. You are ignorant of it, and can be ambushed every day. And it is so big that, if with half a million men you overrun it, it would take a million men to occupy it. And then, what sort of a Union will you have saved, in which the people of the thirteen States refuse to take political action, and have but to raise their fingers to their slaves to set them loose upon you, and drive you northward? You had better take us, Mr. W. Indeed, you have got to take us. For if you wish to back out of this war, you won't be permitted to do it. You have got to conquer or be conquered. I know the slaveholders. They went into this war for power; and if you don't whip them in Virginia and South Carolina, they will whip you in Pennsylvania and New York, and then reconstruct the Union, with themselves at the top, and you at the bottom. You white men of the North will go into slavery, unless you take us black men of the South out of slavery; and Mr. W., you have not a great deal of time left in which to decide what you will do!"

Tom speaks the sentiments of his race. Statesmen and soldiers will heed them. S.W.