We are prone to consider these things harshly now, when slavery has been dead for nearly half a century, but it was a sacred institution then, and to sell a child from its mother was little more than to sell to-day a calf from its lowing dam. One could be sorry, of course, in both instances, but necessity or convenience are matters usually considered before sentiment. Mark Twain once said of his mother:
"Kind-hearted and compassionate as she was, I think she was not conscious that slavery was a bald, grotesque, and unwarranted ursurpation. She had never heard it assailed in any pulpit, but had heard it defended and sanctified in a thousand. As far as her experience went, the wise, the good, and the holy were unanimous in the belief that slavery was right, righteous, sacred, the peculiar pet of the Deity, and a condition which the slave himself ought to be daily and nightly thankful for."
Yet Jane Clemens must have had qualms at times--vague, unassembled doubts that troubled her spirit. After Jennie was gone a little black chore-boy was hired from his owner, who had bought him on the east shore of Maryland and brought him to that remote Western village, far from family and friends.
He was a cheery spirit in spite of that, and gentle, but very noisy. All day he went about singing, whistling, and whooping until his noise became monotonous, maddening. One day Little Sam said:
"Ma--[that was the Southern term]--,make Sandy stop singing all the time. It's awful."
Tears suddenly came into his mother's eyes.
"Poor thing! He is sold away from his home. When he sings it shows maybe he is not remembering. When he's still I am afraid he is thinking, and I can't bear it."
Yet any one in that day who advanced the idea of freeing the slaves was held in abhorrence. An abolitionist was something to despise, to stone out of the community. The children held the name in horror, as belonging to something less than human; something with claws, perhaps, and a tail.
The money received for the sale of Jennie made judge Clemens easier for a time. Business appears to have improved, too, and he was tided through another year during which he seems to have made payments on an expensive piece of real estate on Hill and Main streets. This property, acquired in November, 1839, meant the payment of some seven thousand dollars, and was a credit purchase, beyond doubt. It was well rented, but the tenants did not always pay; and presently a crisis came--a descent of creditors-- and John: Clemens at forty-four found himself without business and without means. He offered everything--his cow, his household furniture, even his forks and spoons--to his creditors, who protested that he must not strip himself. They assured him that they admired his integrity so much they would aid him to resume business; but when he went to St. Louis to lay in a stock of goods he was coldly met, and the venture came to nothing.
He now made a trip to Tennessee in the hope of collecting some old debts and to raise money on the Tennessee land. He took along a negro man named Charlie, whom he probably picked up for a small sum, hoping to make something through his disposal in a better market. The trip was another failure. The man who owed him a considerable sum of money was solvent, but pleaded hard times:
It seems so very hard upon him--[John Clemens wrote home]--to pay such a sum that I could not have the conscience to hold him to it. . . I still have Charlie. The highest price I had offered for him in New Orleans was $50, in Vicksburg $40. After performing the journey to Tennessee, I expect to sell him for whatever he will bring.
I do not know what I can commence for a business in the spring. My brain is constantly on the rack with the study, and I can't relieve myself of it. The future, taking its completion from the state of my health or mind, is alternately beaming in sunshine or over- shadowed with clouds; but mostly cloudy, as you may suppose.