From the Richmond Whig, 1/12/1866, p. 4, c. 1
The Test of the Negro’s Fitness for Freedom.
The world wants the evidence that the negroes are worthy of the freedom that has been bestowed upon them. That freedom, to human eyes, appears to be what an English Chancellor once called “the accident of an accident.” It was not the original design of the North in entering upon the war; it certainly was not the design of the South. But Providence, whose ways are inscrutable, made that war the means of the emancipation of the negroes, and after it was commenced, the North resolved that it should not terminate until that object was achieved. No war, perhaps, in the tide of time, was ever commenced with so inadequate a conception, on both sides, of the colossal proportions it would assume, and with so utter an absence of forecast as to results. In looking back, there appears to have been no statesmanship, no wisdom, no forethought, in the beginning. Whether it was that each party thought the other playing a game of braggartism and intimidation, and was not really in earnest; or whether it was that Providence, as in days of old, confounded the wisdom of the wise, making it as foolishness, we cannot say; but certain it is that no war was ever undertaken with so imperfect a conception of its ultimate magnitude, incidents and results.
So visibly was the hand of Providence in the main results of the war, that we should accept them as the will of the Supreme Being, and submit to them with as much cheerfulness as we can command. One of these results was the abolition of slavery, and there are few who do not foresee that the time is not far distant when the South will realize more benefit and profit – speaking in a material sense only – from being without than with slaves. We were, not long since, much struck with the manner in which the Albion concluded an article on the subject of emancipation. It said – “All things considered, we heartily congratulate the white man. We hesitate in respect to the black.”
Whether a blessing or a curse, the black man has his freedom, and upon his own conduct depends the solution of the problem. We would not dishearten him, or throw any additional impediments in his already difficult pathway – on the contrary, we feel a kindness for Sambo and his banjo, and would take pleasure in aiding his efforts. But we must say that, in our judgment, he has seen his happiest days. His troubles commence with his freedom; nor are they likely to end, or be lessened at all, with the concession to him of suffrage. His fitness for freedom has now to be tested, and we do not exaggerate, almost ludicrous as it may seem, when we say that the eyes of the world are upon him. He, humble Sambo, is this moment the most conspicuous actor upon the stage of the world. His role is that of the voluntary laborer. Kings, Presidents, Cabinets, Parliaments and the people of many nations are regarding him with an interest that the white laborer would essay in vain to excite. His debut is what, in theatrical language, is called brilliant; all the harm we wish him is, that his exit may be accompanied by the same applause.
This occasion is big with the fate of the negro for all time. He may live long, but he will never again obtain such an august audience as he now enjoys. If he proves himself to be unworthy of the interest he now excited, unfit for freedom, and incapable of filling the position of a voluntary laborer, the interest of the world will be lost, forever lost, and he will sink out of sight and be forgotten. Fanaticism, even, requires some pabulum to sustain it, or eventually it must die.
It is, therefore, in the highest degree important to Sambo that he shall well act his part, and show himself worthy of the sympathy he has excited, and of the freedom vouchsafed to him. We will give him some friendly hints, which, if heeded, will prove highly beneficial. Let him go to work in earnest, seeking a respectable man as his employer, and making, under the advice of some intelligent and friendly person (such he can readily find if he has been a faithful servant) a fair labor contract for one year. Let him behave himself and not sacrifice his real, substantial interests to a ridiculous and swaggering assumption of independence and self-importance. If he works faithfully and deports himself properly, he will make a friend of his employer and will be sure of steady work.
There is one convincing mode by which the freedmen may show their fitness for freedom, and by which they may establish their title to the good opinion of the world. If they will seek employment, go to work, and make the same crops of cotton, sugar, rice, tobacco, wheat and corn that they made when they were slaves, everybody, everywhere, will know it, and they will find universal favor. The world watches these crops with solicitude, and seeks for them with great avidity. It knows precisely how much of each of these crops was made under the system of slave labor, and will find out how much will be made by the labor of the freedmen. By this result the freedmen will be judged, and their fitness or unfitness for freedom will be determined.