South Boston, June 18th, 1854.
My Dear Mann: — I have sometimes been happy enough to get a glimpse of you through your letters to Downer — for you had in them, once in a while, a kind word for me. Yesterday, however, there was a hard one, — though I know not unkindly meant;—you said “out of sight out of mind;” et tu!! You have never been out of my mind — never out of my heart. I have not written simply because I had little or nothing to say, except that I love you, and that you know well enough.
We have gone through a terrible ordeal lately: a week of intense, painful, dreadful excitement. I saw the whole, from the broken door, the pointed pistols and the flashing cutlasses,1 to the last sad funeral procession. During the latter I wept for sorrow, shame and indignation. Then, let me tell you (and I know enough of mobs to know it truly) — had it not been for the citizen soldiery and the armed citizen police, the people would have rushed upon the United States troops, disarmed and routed them and have rescued poor Burns. With a constable's pole in advance, — with a scrap of law as big as this sheet, — the people would, at any time, and against all obstacles, have done so. The fear of the law, — the fetish of law, disarmed and emasculated us.
The most interesting thing I saw in the crowd was a comely coloured girl of eighteen, who stood with clenched teeth and fists, and with tears streaming down her cheeks, — the very picture of indignant despair. I could not help saying, “do not cry, poor girl — he won't be hurt.” “Hurt!” said she, “I cry for shame that he will not kill himself! — oh! why is he not man enough to kill himself!” There was the intuition, the blind intuition of genius! — had he, then and there, struck a knife into his own heart, he would have killed outright the fugitive slave law in New England and the North.
As it is, poor Burns has been the cause of a great revolution: you have no idea of the change of feeling here. Think of Sam'l A. Eliot, the hard, plucky and “sort of honest”2 Eliot, coming out for repeal of Nebraska or disunion!
Things are working well. God will get the upper hand of the Devil, even in Boston, soon. As for Loring — old Ned Loring,3 whom you loved, and whom for a while you boosted up on your shoulders into a moral atmosphere, he has sunk down, and will die in the darkness of despotic surroundings. I wrote to him, and talked with him before the decision; I have had a letter from him since, but it is a hard and heartless one. I have liked him much; and am loth to lose the last of my associates in that circle; but I must. If he is white, I am blacker than hell; if he is right, I am terribly wrong.
I think you should write to him. I have set going the enclosed address to him. Would it were better! but it is honest, and has cost me a pang and a tear. Goodbye, my pleasant old friend; if you are going up, I go down; and vice versa.
As for myself, dear Mann, I am very much as I was. In health no better, nor worse. In spirits at zero. In hopes for myself, nothing beyond happiness reflected through that of my dear children. They are, thank God, always well and jolly. They never know an ache or a pain; are industrious, affectionate, obedient, truthful, and very bright.
Let me hear from you, do! Shall I never see you? ah — I do not like to think of turning my face to the wall, and going away from earth without again grasping your hand. I'll try not to do so.
With kind regards to Madame, ever, dear Mann, yours,
S. G. Howe.
1 The attack on the Court House to rescue Anthony Burns.
2 In reading these letters, allowance must be made for the intense feeling of the time. I cannot verify this quotation, but Mr. Eliot's honesty admitted of no qualification.
3 Judge E. G. Loring, who decreed the return of Burns to slavery. The feeling against him became so strong that he was obliged to leave Boston and take up his residence in Washington.
SOURCE: Laura E. Richards, Editor, Letters and Journals of Samuel Gridley Howe, Volume 2, p. 269-71