Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin, 1852 [Excerpt]
two colored men were the two principal hands on the plantation. Legree had trained them in savageness and brutality as
systematically as he had his bull-dogs; and, by long practice in hardness and
cruelty, brought their whole nature to about the same range of capacities. It
is a common remark, and one that is thought to militate strongly against the
character of the race, that the negro overseer is
always more tyrannical and cruel than the white one. This is simply saying that
the negro mind has been more crushed and debased than
the white. It is no more true of this race than of
every oppressed race, the world over. The slave is always a tyrant, if he can
get a chance to be one. . .
It was late in the evening when the weary occupants of the shanties came flocking home-men and women, in soiled and tattered garments, surly and uncomfortable, and in no mood to look pleasantly on newcomers. The small village was alive with no inviting sounds; hoarse, guttural voices contending at the hand-mills where their morsel of hard corn was yet to be ground into meal, to fit it for the cake that was to constitute their only supper. From the earliest dawn of the day, they had been in the fields, pressed to work under the driving lash of the overseers; for it was now in the very heat and hurry of the season, and no means were left untried to press everyone up to the top of their capabilities. "True," says the negligent lounger; "picking cotton isn't hard work." Isn't it? And it isn't much inconvenience, either, to have one drop of water fall on your head; yet the worst torture of the Inquisition is produced by drop after drop, drop after drop, falling moment after moment, with monotonous succession, on the same spot; and work in itself not hard becomes so by being pressed, hour after hour, with unvarying, unrelenting sameness, with not even the consciousness of free-will to take from its tediousness. Tom looked in vain among the gang, as they poured along, for companionable faces. He saw only sullen, scowling, embruted men, and feeble, discouraged women, or women that were not women-the strong pushing away the weak-the gross, unrestricted animal selfishness of human beings, of whom nothing good was expected and desired; and who, treated in every way like brutes, had sunk as nearly to their level as it was possible for human beings to do.