Quote 3

I was really thinking of killing him, wiping him off the earth, and it was then I realized for the first time that if it was necessary to kill them, then I would kill them, and something at the same time said: you cannot be utterly right.

These lines are spoken by Chamberlain in July 2, Chapter 2. The man he refers to is a fellow professor, from the South, who tries to convince Chamberlain that blacks are not really “humans.” Unconvinced by Chamberlain’s arguments, the professor asks Chamberlain, “What if it is you who are wrong?” Chamberlain is so enraged at the man’s racism that he wants to kill him, yet Chamberlain realizes that it is difficult to be so convinced of one’s correctness as to justify killing. The passage gives us the perspective of a Union intellectual on one of the causes of the war. Chamberlain has just met an escaped slave—he has come face-to-face with what he knows is one of the main reasons for the war. To his surprise, he finds himself mildly repulsed by the sight of the slave, and his reaction troubles him greatly. Many men on both sides felt that the war was being fought over the issue of states’ rights and the preservation of the union rather than slavery. Chamberlain’s deep contemplation of slavery and of his reaction to it, however, illustrates his understanding that one of the fundamental causes of the war is indeed slavery.