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IN FAVOR OF THAT CLASS
AMERICANS CALLED AFRICANS.
BY MRS. CHILD,
AUTHOR OF THE MOTHER'S BOOK, THE GIRL'S OWN BOOK, THE FRUGAL HOUSEWIFE, ETC.
"We have offended, Oh! my countrymen! We have offended very grievously, And been most tyrannous. From east to west A groan of accusation pierces Heaven! The wretched plead against us; multitudes, Countless and vehement, the sons of God, Our brethren!"
PUBLISHED BY JOHN S. TAYLOR.
Reader, I beseech you not to throw down this volume as soon as you have glanced at the title. Read it, if your prejudices will allow, for the very truth's sake:—If I have the most trifling claims upon your good will, for an hour's amusement to yourself, or benefit to your children, read it for my sake:—Read it, if it be merely to find fresh occasion to sneer at the vulgarity of the cause:—Read it, from sheer curiosity to see what a woman (who had much better attend to her household concerns) will say upon such a subject:—Read it, on any terms, and my purpose will be gained.
The subject I have chosen admits of no encomiums on my country; but as I generally make it an object to supply what is most needed, this circumstance is unimportant; the market is so glutted with flattery, that a little truth may be acceptable, were it only for its rarity.
I am fully aware of the unpopularity of the task I have undertaken; but though I expect ridicule and censure, it is not in my nature to fear them.
A few years hence, the opinion of the world will be a matter in which I have not even the most transient interest; but this book will be abroad on its mission of humanity, long after the hand that wrote it is mingling with the dust.
Should it be the means of advancing, even one single hour, the inevitable progress of truth and justice, I would not exchange the consciousness for all Rothchild's wealth, or Sir Walter's fame.
BRIEF HISTORY OF NEGRO SLAVERY.—ITS INEVITABLE EFFECT UPON ALL CONCERNED IN IT. 7
COMPARATIVE VIEW OF SLAVERY, IN DIFFERENT AGES AND NATIONS. 38
FREE LABOR AND SLAVE LABOR.—POSSIBILITY OF SAFE EMANCIPATION. 76
INFLUENCE OF SLAVERY ON THE POLITICS OF THE UNITED STATES. 105
COLONIZATION SOCIETY, AND ANTI-SLAVERY SOCIETY. 123
INTELLECT OF NEGROES. 148
MORAL CHARACTER OF NEGROES. 177
PREJUDICES AGAINST PEOPLE OF COLOR, AND OUR DUTIES IN RELATION TO THIS SUBJECT. 195
AN APPEAL, &c.
BRIEF HISTORY OF NEGRO SLAVERY.—ITS INEVITABLE EFFECT UPON ALL CONCERNED IN IT.
The lot is wretched, the condition sad, Whether a pining discontent survive, And thirst for change; or habit hath subdued The soul depressed; dejected—even to love Of her dull tasks and close captivity.
My ear is pained, My soul is sick with every day's report Of wrong and outrage, with which this earth is filled. There is no flesh in man's obdurate heart, It does not feel for man.
While the Portuguese were exploring Africa, in 1442, Prince Henry ordered Anthony Gonsalez to carry back certain Moorish prisoners, whom he had seized two years before near Cape Bajador: this order was obeyed, and Gonsalez received from the Moors, in exchange for the captives, ten negroes, and a quantity of gold dust. Unluckily, this wicked speculation proved profitable, and other Portuguese were induced to embark in it.
In 1492, the West India islands were discovered by Columbus. The Spaniards, dazzled with the acquisition of a new world and eager to come into possession of their wealth, compelled the natives of Hispaniola to dig in the mines. The native Indians died rapidly, in consequence of hard work and cruel treatment; and thus a new market was opened for the negro slaves captured by the Portuguese. They were accordingly introduced as early as 1503. Those who bought and those who sold were alike prepared to trample on the rights of their fellow-beings, by that most demoralizing of all influences, the accursed love of gold.
Cardinal Ximenes, while he administered the government, before the accession of Charles the Fifth, was petitioned to allow a regular commerce in African negroes. But he rejected the proposal with promptitude and firmness, alike honorable to his head and heart. This earliest friend of the Africans, living in a comparatively unenlightened age, has peculiar claims upon our gratitude and reverence. In 1517, Charles the Fifth granted a patent for an annual supply of four thousand negroes to the Spanish islands. He probably soon became aware of the horrible and ever-increasing evils, attendant upon this traffic; for twenty-five years after he emancipated every negro in his dominions. But when he resigned his crown and retired to a monastery, the colonists resumed their shameless tyranny.
Captain Hawkins, afterward Sir John Hawkins, was the first Englishman, who disgraced himself and his country by this abominable trade. Assisted by some rich people in London, he fitted out three ships, and sailed to the African coast, where he burned and plundered the towns, and carried off three hundred of the defenceless inhabitants to Hispaniola.
Elizabeth afterwards authorized a similar adventure with one of her own vessels. "She expressed her concern lest any of the Africans should be carried off without their free consent; declaring that such a thing would be detestable, and call down the vengeance of Heaven upon the undertakers." For this reason, it has been supposed that the queen was deceived—that she imagined the negroes were transported to the Spanish colonies as voluntary laborers. But history gives us slight reasons to judge Elizabeth so favorably. It was her system always to preserve an appearance of justice and virtue. She was a shrewd, far-sighted politician; and had in perfection the clear head and cold heart calculated to form that character. Whatever she might believe of the trade at its beginning, she was too deeply read in human nature, not to foresee the inevitable consequence of placing power in the hands of avarice.
A Roman priest persuaded Louis the Thirteenth to sanction slavery for the sake of converting the negroes to Christianity; and thus this bloody iniquity, disguised with gown, hood, and rosary, entered the fair dominions of France. To be violently wrested from his home, and condemned to toil without hope, by Christians, to whom he had done no wrong, was, methinks, a very odd beginning to the poor negro's course of religious instruction!
When this evil had once begun, it, of course, gathered strength rapidly; for all the bad passions of human nature were eagerly enlisted in its cause. The British formed settlements in North America, and in the West Indies; and these were stocked with slaves. From 1680 to 1786, two million, one hundred and thirty thousand negroes were imported into the British colonies!
In almost all great evils there is some redeeming feature—some good results, even where it is not intended: pride and vanity, utterly selfish and wrong in themselves, often throw money into the hands of the poor, and thus tend to excite industry and ingenuity, while they produce comfort. But slavery is all evil—within and without—root and branch,—bud, blossom and fruit!
In order to show how dark it is in every aspect—how invariably injurious both to nations and individuals,—I will select a few facts from the mass of evidence now before me.
In the first place, its effects upon Africa have been most disastrous. All along the coast, intercourse with Europeans has deprived the inhabitants of their primitive simplicity, without substituting in its place the order, refinement, and correctness of principle, attendant upon true civilization. The soil of Africa is rich in native productions, and honorable commerce might have been a blessing to her, to Europe, and to America; but instead of that, a trade has been substituted, which operates like a withering curse, upon all concerned in it.
There are green and sheltered valleys in Africa,—broad and beautiful rivers,—and vegetation in its loveliest and most magnificent forms.—But no comfortable houses, no thriving farms, no cultivated gardens;—for it is not safe to possess permanent property, where each little state is surrounded by warlike neighbors, continually sending out their armed bands in search of slaves. The white man offers his most tempting articles of merchandise to the negro, as a price for the flesh and blood of his enemy; and if we, with all our boasted knowledge and religion, are seduced by money to do such grievous wrong to those who have never offended us, what can we expect of men just emerging from the limited wants of savage life, too uncivilized to have formed any habits of steady industry, yet earnestly coveting the productions they know not how to earn! The inevitable consequence is, that war is made throughout that unhappy continent, not only upon the slightest pretences, but often without any pretext at all. Villages are set on fire, and those who fly from the flames, rush upon the spears of the enemy. Private kidnapping is likewise carried on to a great extent, for he who can catch a neighbor's child is sure to find a ready purchaser; and it sometimes happens that the captor and his living merchandise are both seized by the white slave-trader. Houses are broken open in the night, and defenceless women and children carried away into captivity. If boys, in the unsuspecting innocence of youth, come near the white man's ships, to sell vegetables or fruit, they are ruthlessly seized and carried to slavery in a distant land. Even the laws are perverted to this shameful purpose. If a chief wants European commodities, he accuses a parent of witchcraft; the victim is tried by the ordeal of poisoned water;[A] and if he sicken at the draught, the king claims a right to punish him by selling his whole family. In African legislation, almost all crimes are punished with slavery; and thanks to the white man's rapacity, there is always a very powerful motive for finding the culprit guilty. He must be a very good king indeed, that judges his subjects impartially, when he is sure of making money by doing otherwise!
[Footnote A: Judicial trials by the ordeal of personal combat, in which the vanquished were always pronounced guilty, occurred as late as the sixteenth century, both in France and England.]
The king of Dahomy, and other despotic princes, do not scruple to seize their own people and sell them, without provocation, whenever they happen to want anything, which slave-ships can furnish. If a chief has conscience enough to object to such proceedings, he is excited by presents of gunpowder and brandy. One of these men, who could not resist the persuasions of the slave-traders while he was intoxicated, was conscience-stricken when he recovered his senses, and bitterly reproached his Christian seducers. One negro king, debarred by his religion from the use of spirituous liquors, and therefore less dangerously tempted than others, abolished the slave-trade throughout his dominions and exerted himself to encourage honest industry; but his people must have been as sheep among wolves.
Relentless bigotry brings its aid to darken the horrors of the scene. The Mohammedans deem it right to subject the heathen tribes to perpetual bondage. The Moors and Arabs think Alla and the prophet have given them an undisputed right to the poor Caffre, his wife, his children, and his goods. But mark how the slave-trade deepens even the fearful gloom of bigotry! These Mohammedans are by no means zealous to enlighten their Pagan neighbors—they do not wish them to come to a knowledge of what they consider the true religion—lest they should forfeit the only ground, on which they can even pretend to the right of driving them by thousands to the markets of Kano and Tripoli.
This is precisely like our own conduct. We say the negroes are so ignorant that they must be slaves; and we insist upon keeping them ignorant, lest we spoil them for slaves. The same spirit that dictates this logic to the Arab, teaches it to the European and the American:—Call it what you please—it is certainly neither of heaven nor of earth.
When the slave-ships are lying on the coast of Africa, canoes well armed are sent into the inland country, and after a few weeks they return with hundreds of negroes, tied fast with ropes. Sometimes the white men lurk among the bushes, and seize the wretched beings who incautiously venture from their homes; sometimes they paint their skins as black as their hearts, and by this deception suddenly surprise the unsuspecting natives; at other times the victims are decoyed on board the vessel, under some kind pretence or other, and then lashed to the mast, or chained in the hold. Is it not very natural for the Africans to say "devilish white?"
All along the shores of this devoted country, terror and distrust prevail. The natives never venture out without arms, when a vessel is in sight, and skulk through their own fields, as if watched by a panther. All their worst passions are called into full exercise, and all their kindlier feelings smothered. Treachery, fraud and violence desolate the country, rend asunder the dearest relations, and pollute the very fountains of justice. The history of the negro, whether national or domestic, is written in blood. Had half the skill and strength employed in the slave-trade been engaged in honorable commerce, the native princes would long ago have directed their energies towards clearing the country, destroying wild beasts, and introducing the arts and refinements of civilized life. Under such influences, Africa might become an earthly paradise;—the white man's avarice has made it a den of wolves.
Having thus glanced at the miserable effects of this system on the condition of Africa, we will now follow the poor slave through his wretched wanderings, in order to give some idea of his physical suffering, his mental and moral degradation.
Husbands are torn from their wives, children from their parents, while the air is filled with the shrieks and lamentations of the bereaved. Sometimes they are brought from a remote country; obliged to wander over mountains and through deserts; chained together in herds; driven by the whip; scorched by a tropical sun; compelled to carry heavy bales of merchandise; suffering with hunger and thirst; worn down with fatigue; and often leaving their bones to whiten in the desert. A large troop of slaves, taken by the Sultan of Fezzan, died in the desert for want of food. In some places, travellers meet with fifty or sixty skeletons in a day, of which the largest proportion were no doubt slaves, on their way to European markets. Sometimes the poor creatures refuse to go a step further, and even the lacerating whip cannot goad them on; in such cases, they become the prey of wild beasts, more merciful than white men.
Those who arrive at the seacoast, are in a state of desperation and despair. Their purchasers are so well aware of this, and so fearful of the consequences, that they set sail in the night, lest the negroes should know when they depart from their native shores.
And here the scene becomes almost too harrowing to dwell upon. But we must not allow our nerves to be more tender than our consciences. The poor wretches are stowed by hundreds, like bales of goods, between the low decks, where filth and putrid air produce disease, madness and suicide. Unless they die in great numbers, the slave-captain does not even concern himself enough to fret; his live stock cost nothing, and he is sure of such a high price for what remains at the end of the voyage, that he can afford to lose a good many.
The following account is given by Dr. Walsh, who accompanied Viscount Strangford, as chaplain, on his embassy to Brazil. The vessel in which he sailed chased a slave-ship; for to the honor of England be it said, she has asked and obtained permission from other governments, to treat as pirates such of their subjects as are discovered carrying on this guilty trade north of the equator. Doctor Walsh was an eyewitness of the scene he describes; and the evidence given, at various times, before the British House of Commons, proves that the frightful picture is by no means exaggerated.
"The vessel had taken in, on the coast of Africa, three hundred and thirty-six males, and two hundred and twenty-six females, making in all five hundred and sixty-two; she had been out seventeen days, during which she had thrown overboard fifty-five. They were all inclosed under grated hatchways, between decks. The space was so low, and they were stowed so close together, that there was no possibility of lying down, or changing their position, night or day. The greater part of them were shut out from light and air; and this when the thermometer, exposed to the open sky, was standing, in the shade on our deck, at eighty-nine degrees.
"The space between decks was divided into two compartments, three feet three inches high. Two hundred and twenty-six women and girls were thrust into one space two hundred and eighty-eight feet square; and three hundred and thirty-six men and boys were crammed into another space eight hundred feet square; giving the whole an average of twenty-three inches; and to each of the women not more than thirteen inches; though several of them were in a state of health, which peculiarly demanded pity.—As they were shipped on account of different individuals, they were branded like sheep, with the owner's marks of different forms; which, as the mate informed me with perfect indifference, had been burnt in with red-hot iron. Over the hatchway stood a ferocious looking fellow, the slave-driver of the ship, with a scourge of many-twisted thongs in his hand; whenever he heard the slightest noise from below, he shook it over them, and seemed eager to exercise it.
"As soon as the poor creatures saw us looking down at them, their melancholy visages brightened up. They perceived something of sympathy and kindness in our looks, to which they had not been accustomed; and feeling instinctively that we were friends, they immediately began to shout and clap their hands. The women were particularly excited. They all held up their arms, and when we bent down and shook hands with them, they could not contain their delight; they endeavored to scramble upon their knees, stretching up to kiss our hands, and we understood they knew we had come to liberate them. Some, however, hung down their heads in apparently hopeless dejection: some were greatly emaciated; and some, particularly children, seemed dying. The heat of these horrid places was so great, and the odor so offensive, that it was quite impossible to enter them, even had there been room.
"The officers insisted that the poor, suffering creatures, should be admitted on deck to get air and water. This was opposed by the mate of the slaver, who (from a feeling that they deserved it,) declared they should be all murdered. The officers, however, persisted, and the poor beings were all turned out together. It is impossible to conceive the effect of this eruption—five hundred and seventeen fellow-creatures, of all ages and sexes, some children, some adults, some old men and women, all entirely destitute of clothing, scrambling out together to taste the luxury of a little fresh air and water. They came swarming up, like bees from a hive, till the whole deck was crowded to suffocation from stem to stern; so that it was impossible to imagine where they could all have come from, or how they could have been stowed away. On looking into the places where they had been crammed, there were found some children next the sides of the ship, in the places most remote from light and air; they were lying nearly in a torpid state, after the rest had turned out. The little creatures seemed indifferent as to life or death; and when they were carried on deck, many of them could not stand. After enjoying for a short time the unusual luxury of air, some water was brought; it was then that the extent of their sufferings was exposed in a fearful manner. They all rushed like maniacs towards it. No entreaties, or threats, or blows, could restrain them; they shrieked, and struggled, and fought with one another, for a drop of this precious liquid, as if they grew rabid at the sight of it. There is nothing from which slaves in the mid-passage suffer so much as want of water. It is sometimes usual to take out casks filled with sea-water as ballast, and when the slaves are received on board, to start the casks, and re-fill them with fresh. On one occasion, a ship from Bahia neglected to change the contents of their casks, and on the mid-passage found to their horror, that they were filled with nothing but salt water. All the slaves on board perished! We could judge of the extent of their sufferings from the afflicting sight we now saw. When the poor creatures were ordered down again, several of them came, and pressed their heads against our knees, with looks of the greatest anguish, with the prospect of returning to the horrid place of suffering below."
Alas! the slave-captain proved by his papers that he confined his traffic strictly to the south of the Line, where it was yet lawful; perhaps his papers were forged; but the English officers were afraid to violate an article of the treaty, which their government had made with Brazil. Thus does cunning wickedness defeat benevolence and justice in this world! Dr. Walsh continues: "With infinite regret, therefore, we were obliged to restore his papers to the captain, and permit him to proceed, after nine hours' detention and close investigation. It was dark when we separated, and the last parting sounds we heard from the unhallowed ship, were the cries and shrieks of the slaves, suffering under some bodily infliction."
I suppose the English officers acted politically right; but not for the world's wealth, would I have acted politically right, under such circumstances![B]
[Footnote B: Dr. Walsh's book on Brazil was published in 1831. He says; "Notwithstanding the benevolent and persevering exertions of England, this horrid traffic in human flesh is nearly as extensively carried on as ever, and under circumstances perhaps of a more revolting character. The very shifts at evasion, the necessity for concealment, and the desperate hazard, cause inconvenience and sufferings to the poor creatures in a very aggravated degree."]
Arrived at the place of destination, the condition of the slave is scarcely less deplorable. They are advertised with cattle; chained in droves, and driven to market with a whip; and sold at auction, with the beasts of the field. They are treated like brutes, and all the influences around them conspire to make them brutes.
"Some are employed as domestic slaves, when and how the owner pleases; by day or by night, on Sunday or other days, in any measure or degree, with any remuneration or with none, with what kind or quantity of food the owner of the human beast may choose. Male or female, young or old, weak or strong, may be punished with or without reason, as caprice or passion may prompt. When the drudge does not suit, he may be sold for some inferior purpose, like a horse that has seen his best days, till like a worn-out beast he dies, unpitied and forgotten! Kept in ignorance of the holy precepts and divine consolations of Christianity, he remains a Pagan in a Christian land, without even an object of idolatrous worship—'having no hope, and without God in the world.'"
From the moment the slave is kidnapped, to the last hour he draws his miserable breath, the white man's influence directly cherishes ignorance, fraud, treachery, theft, licentiousness, revenge, hatred and murder. It cannot be denied that human nature thus operated upon, must necessarily yield, more or less, to all these evils.—And thus do we dare to treat beings, who, like ourselves, are heirs of immortality!
And now let us briefly inquire into the influence of slavery on the white man's character; for in this evil there is a mighty re-action. "Such is the constitution of things, that we cannot inflict an injury without suffering from it ourselves: he who blesses another, benefits himself; but he who sins against his fellow-creature, does his own soul a grievous wrong." The effect produced upon slave-captains is absolutely frightful. Those who wish to realize it in all its awful extent, may find abundant information in Clarkson's History of Slavery: the authenticity of the facts there given cannot be doubted; for setting aside the perfect honesty of Clarkson's character, these facts were principally accepted as evidence before the British Parliament, where there was a very strong party of slave-owners desirous to prove them false.
Indeed when we reflect upon the subject, it cannot excite surprise that slave-captains become as hard-hearted and fierce as tigers. The very first step in their business is a deliberate invasion of the rights of others; its pursuit combines every form of violence, bloodshed, tyranny and anguish; they are accustomed to consider their victims as cattle, or blocks of wood;[C] and they are invested with perfectly despotic powers.
[Footnote C: I have read letters from slave-captains to their employers, in which they declare that they shipped such a number of billets of wood, or pieces of ebony, on the coast of Africa.
Near the office of the Richmond Inquirer in Virginia, an auction flag was hoisted one day this last winter, with the following curious advertisement: "On Monday the 11th inst., will be sold in front of the High Constable's office, one bright mulatto woman, about twenty-six years of age; also, some empty barrels, and sundry old candle-boxes."]
There is a great waste of life among white seamen employed in this traffic, in consequence of the severe punishment they receive, and diseases originating in the unwholesome atmosphere on board. Clarkson, after a long and patient investigation, came to the conclusion that two slave voyages to Africa, would destroy more seamen than eighty-three to Newfoundland; and there is this difference to be observed, that the loss in one trade is generally occasioned by weather or accident, in the other by cruelty or disease. The instances are exceedingly numerous of sailors on board slave-ships, that have died under the lash, or in consequence of it. Some of the particulars are so painful that it has made me sicken to read them; and I therefore forbear to repeat them. Of the Alexander's crew, in 1785, no less than eleven deserted at Bonny, on the African coast, because life had become insupportable. They chose all that could be endured from a most inhospitable climate, and the violence of the natives, rather than remain in their own ship. Nine others died on the voyage, and the rest were exceedingly abused. This state of things was so universal that seamen were notoriously averse to enter the hateful business. In order to obtain them it became necessary to resort to force or deception. (Behold how many branches there are to the tree of crime!) Decoyed to houses where night after night was spent in dancing, rioting and drunkenness, the thoughtless fellows gave themselves up to the merriment of the scene, and in a moment of intoxication the fatal bargain was sealed. Encouraged to spend more than they owned, a jail or the slave-ship became the only alternatives. The superiority of wages was likewise a strong inducement; but this was a cheat. The wages of the sailors were half paid in the currency of the country where the vessel carried her slaves; and thus they were actually lower than in other trades, while they were nominally higher.
In such an employment the morals of the seamen of course became corrupt, like their masters; and every species of fraud was thought allowable to deceive the ignorant Africans, by means of false weights, false measures, adulterated commodities, and the like.
Of the cruelties on board slave-ships, I will mention but a few instances; though a large volume might be filled with such detestable anecdotes perfectly well authenticated.
"A child on board a slave-ship, of about ten months old, took sulk and would not eat; the captain flogged it with a cat-o'-nine-tails; swearing that he would make it eat, or kill it. From this, and other ill-treatment, the limbs swelled. He then ordered some water to be made hot to abate the swelling. But even his tender mercies were cruel. The cook, on putting his hand into the water, said it was too hot. Upon this the captain swore at him, and ordered the feet to be put in. This was done. The nails and skin came off. Oiled cloths were then put around them. The child was at length tied to a heavy log. Two or three days afterwards, the captain caught it up again, and repeated that he would make it eat, or kill it. He immediately flogged it again, and in a quarter of an hour it died. And after the babe was dead, whom should the barbarian select to throw it overboard, but the wretched mother! In vain she tried to avoid the office. He beat her, till he made her take up the child and carry it to the side of the vessel. She then dropped it into the sea, turning her head the other way, that she might not see it."[D]
[Footnote D: Clarkson's History of the Abolition of the Slave Trade.]
"In 1780, a slave-trader, detained by contrary winds on the American coast, and in distress, selected one hundred and thirty-two of his sick slaves, and threw them into the sea, tied together in pairs, that they might not escape by swimming. He hoped the Insurance Company would indemnify him for his loss; and in the law-suit, to which this gave birth, he observed that 'negroes cannot be considered in any other light than as beasts of burden; and to lighten a vessel it is permitted to throw overboard its least valuable effects.'
"Some of the unhappy slaves escaped from those who attempted to tie them, and jumped into the sea. One of them was saved by means of a cord thrown by the sailors of another vessel; and the monster who murdered his innocent companions had the audacity to claim him as his property. The Judges, either from shame, or a sense of justice, refused his demand."[E]
[Footnote E: The Abbe Gregoire's Inquiry into the Intellect and Morals of Negroes.]
Some people speculate in what are called refuse slaves; i. e. the poor diseased ones. Many of them die in the piazzas of the auctioneers; and sometimes, in the agonies of death, they are sold as low as a dollar.
Even this is better than to be unprotected on the wide ocean, in the power of such wild beasts as I have described. It may seem incredible to some that human nature is capable of so much depravity. But the confessions of pirates show how habitual scenes of blood and violence harden the heart of man; and history abundantly proves that despotic power produces a fearful species of moral insanity. The wanton cruelties of Nero, Caligula, Domitian, and many of the officers of the Inquisition, seem like the frantic acts of madmen.
The public has, however, a sense of justice, which can never be entirely perverted. Since the time when Clarkson, Wilberforce and Fox made the horrors of the slave-trade understood, the slave-captain, or slave-jockey, is spontaneously and almost universally regarded with dislike and horror. Even in the slaveholding states it is deemed disreputable to associate with a professed slave-trader, though few perhaps would think it any harm to bargain with him. This public feeling makes itself felt so strongly, that men engaged in what is called the African traffic, kept it a secret, if they could, even before the laws made it hazardous.
No man of the least principle could for a moment think of engaging in such enterprises; and if he have any feeling, it is soon destroyed by familiarity with scenes of guilt and anguish. The result is, that the slave-trade is a monopoly in the hands of the very wicked; and this is one reason why it has always been profitable.
Yet even the slave-trade has had it champions—of course among those who had money invested in it. Politicians have boldly said that it was a profitable branch of commerce, and ought not to be discontinued on account of the idle dreams of benevolent enthusiasts. They have argued before the House of Commons, that others would enslave the negroes, if the English gave it up—as if it were allowable for one man to commit a crime because another was likely to do it! They tell how merciful it is to bring the Africans away from the despotism and wars, which desolate their own continent; but they do not add that the white man is himself the cause of those wars, nor do they prove our right to judge for another man where he will be the happiest. If the Turks, or the Algerines saw fit to exercise this right, they might carry away captive all the occupants of our prisons and penitentiaries.
Some of the advocates of this traffic maintained that the voyage from Africa to the slave-market, called the Middle Passage, was an exceedingly comfortable portion of existence. One went so far as to declare it "the happiest part of a negro's life." They aver that the Africans, on their way to slavery, are so merry, that they dance and sing. But upon a careful examination of witnesses, it was found that their singing consisted of dirge-like lamentations for their native land. One of the captains threatened to flog a woman, because the mournfulness of her song was too painful to him. After meals they jumped up in their irons for exercise. This was considered so necessary for their health, that they were whipped, if they refused to do it. And this was their dancing! "I," said one of the witnesses, "was employed to dance the men, while another person danced the women."
These pretences, ridiculous as they appear, are worth about as much as any of the arguments that can be brought forward in defence of any part of the slave system.
The engraving on the next page will help to give a vivid idea of the Elysium enjoyed by negroes, during the Middle Passage. Fig. A represents the iron hand-cuffs, which fasten the slaves together by means of a little bolt with a padlock.
B represents the iron shackles by which the ancle of one is made fast to the ancle of his next companion. Yet even thus secured, they do often jump into the sea, and wave their hands in triumph at the approach of death. E is a thumb-screw. The thumbs are put into two rounds holes at the top; by turning a key a bar rises from C to D by means of a screw; and the pressure becomes very painful. By turning it further, the blood is made to start; and by taking away the key, as at E, the tortured person is left in agony, without the means of helping himself, or being helped by others. This is applied in case of obstinacy, at the discretion of the captain. I, F, is a speculum oris. The dotted lines represent it when shut; the black lines when open. It opens at G, H, by a screw below with a knob at the end of it. This instrument was used by surgeons to wrench open the mouth in case of lock-jaw. It is used in slave-ships to compel the negroes to take food; because a loss to the owners would follow their persevering attempts to die. K represents the manner of stowing in a slave-ship.
According to Clarkson's estimate, about two and a half out of a hundred of human beings die annually, in the ordinary course of nature, including infants and the aged; but in an African voyage, where few babes and no old people are admitted, so that those shipped are at the firmest period of life, the annual mortality is forty-three in a hundred. In vessels that sail from Bonny, Benin, and the Calabars, whence a large proportion of slaves are brought, this mortality is so much increased by various causes, that eighty-six in a hundred die yearly. He adds, "It is a destruction, which if general but for ten years, would depopulate the world, and extinguish the human race."
We next come to the influence of this diabolical system on the slave-owner; and here I shall be cautioned that I am treading on delicate ground, because our own countrymen are slaveholders. But I am yet to learn that wickedness is any the better for being our own. Let the truth be spoken—and let those abide its presence who can.
The following is the testimony of Jefferson, who had good opportunities for observation, and who certainly had no New-England prejudices: "There must, doubtless, be an unhappy influence on the manners of the people, produced by the existence of slavery among us. The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions; the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submission on the other. Our children see this and learn to imitate it; for man is an imitative animal. The parent storms; the child looks on, catches the lineaments of wrath, puts on the same airs in a circle of smaller slaves, gives loose to the worst of passions; and thus nursed, educated, and daily exercised in tyranny, cannot but be stamped by it with odious peculiarities. The man must be a prodigy, who can retain his morals and manners undepraved in such circumstances."
In a community where all the labor is done by one class there must of course be another class who live in indolence; and we all know how much people that have nothing to do are tempted by what the world calls pleasures; the result is, that slaveholding states and colonies are proverbial for dissipation. Hence, too, the contempt for industry, which prevails in such a state of society.—Where none work but slaves, usefulness becomes degradation. The wife of a respectable mechanic, who accompanied her husband from Massachusetts to the South, gave great offence to her new neighbors by performing her usual household avocations; they begged her to desist from it, (offering the services of their own blacks,) because the sight of a white person engaged in any labor was extremely injurious to the slaves; they deemed it very important that the negroes should be taught, both by precept and example, that they alone were made to work!
Whether the undue importance attached to merely external gentility, and the increasing tendency to indolence and extravagance throughout this country, ought to be attributed, in any degree, to the same source, I am unable to say; if any influence comes to us from the example and ridicule of the slaveholding states, it certainly must be of this nature.
There is another view of this system, which I cannot unveil so completely as it ought to be. I shall be called bold for saying so much; but the facts are so important, that it is a matter of conscience not to be fastidious.
The negro woman is unprotected either by law or public opinion. She is the property of her master, and her daughters are his property. They are allowed to have no conscientious scruples, no sense of shame, no regard for the feelings of husband, or parent; they must be entirely subservient to the will of their owner, on pain of being whipped as near unto death as will comport with his interest, or quite to death, if it suit his pleasure.
Those who know human nature would be able to conjecture the unavoidable result, even if it were not betrayed by the amount of mixed population. Think for a moment, what a degrading effect must be produced on the morals of both blacks and whites by customs like these!
Considering we live in the nineteenth century, it is indeed a strange state of society where the father sells his child, and the brother puts his sister up at auction! Yet these things are often practised in our republic.
Doctor Walsh, in his account of Brazil, tells an anecdote of one of these fathers, who love their offspring at market price. "For many years," says he, "this man kept his son in slavery, and maintained the right to dispose of him, as he would of his mule. Being ill, however, and near to die, he made his will, left his child his freedom, and apprised him of it. Some time after he recovered, and having a dispute with the young man, he threatened to sell him with the rest of his stock. The son, determined to prevent this, assassinated his father in a wood, got possession of the will, demanded his freedom, and obtained it. This circumstance was perfectly well known in the neighborhood, but no process was instituted against him. He was not chargeable, as I could hear, with any other delinquency than the horrible one of murdering his father to obtain his freedom." This forms a fine picture of the effects of slavery upon human relations![F]
[Footnote F: A short time ago a reverend and very benevolent gentleman suggested as the subject of a book, The Beauty of Human Relations.—What a bitter jest it would be, to send him this volume, with the information that I had complied with his request!]
I have more than once heard people, who had just returned from the South, speak of seeing a number of mulattoes in attendance where they visited, whose resemblance to the head of the family was too striking not to be immediately observed. What sort of feeling must be excited in the minds of those slaves by being constantly exposed to the tyranny or caprice of their own brothers and sisters, and by the knowledge that these near relations, will on a division of the estate, have power to sell them off with the cattle?
But the vices of white men eventually provide a scourge for themselves. They increase the negro race, but the negro can never increase theirs; and this is one great reason why the proportion of colored population is always so large in slaveholding countries. As the ratio increases more and more every year, the colored people must eventually be the stronger party; and when this result happens, slavery must either be abolished, or government must furnish troops, of whose wages the free states must pay their proportion.
As a proof of the effects of slavery on the temper, I will relate but very few anecdotes.
The first happened in the Bahamas. It is extracted from a despatch of Mr. Huskisson to the governor of those islands: "Henry and Helen Moss have been found guilty of a misdemeanor, for their cruelty to their slave Kate; and those facts of the case, which seem beyond dispute, appear to be as follows:
"Kate was a domestic slave, and is stated to have been guilty of theft: she is also accused of disobedience, in refusing to mend her clothes and do her work; and this was the more immediate cause of her punishment. On the twenty-second of July, eighteen hundred and twenty-six, she was confined in the stocks, and she was not released till the eighth of August following, being a period of seventeen days. The stocks were so constructed that she could not sit up or lie down at pleasure, and she remained in them night and day. During this period she was flogged repeatedly, one of the overseers thinks about six times; and red pepper was rubbed upon her eyes to prevent her sleeping. Tasks were given her, which, in the opinion of the same overseer, she was incapable of performing; sometimes because they were beyond her powers, at other times because she could not see to do them, on account of the pepper having been rubbed on her eyes; and she was flogged for failing to accomplish these tasks. A violent distemper had prevailed on the plantation during the summer. It is in evidence, that on one of the days of Kate's confinement, she complained of fever; and that one of the floggings she received was the day after she made the complaint. When she was taken out of the stocks, she appeared to be cramped, and was then again flogged. The very day of her release, she was sent to field labor, (though heretofore a house-servant;) and on the evening of the third day ensuing was brought before her owners, as being ill, and refusing to work; and she then again complained of having fever. They were of opinion that she had none then, but gave directions to the driver, if she should be ill, to bring her to them for medicines in the morning. The driver took her to the negro-house, and again flogged her; though at this time apparently without orders from her owners to do so. In the morning at seven o'clock she was taken to work in the field, where she died at noon.
"The facts of the case are thus far incontrovertibly established; and I deeply lament, that, heinous as the offences are which this narrative exhibits, I can discover no material palliation of them amongst the other circumstances detailed in the evidence."
A bill of indictment for murder was preferred against Mr. and Mrs. Moss: the grand jury threw it out. Upon two other bills, for misdemeanors, a verdict of guilty was returned. Five months' imprisonment, and a fine of three hundred pounds, was the only punishment for this deliberate and shocking cruelty!
In the next chapter, it will be seen that similar misdemeanors are committed with equal impunity in this country.
I do not know how much odium Mr. and Mrs. Moss generally incurred in consequence of this transaction; but many of "the most respectable people in the island petitioned for a mitigation of their punishment, visited them in prison, did every thing to identify themselves with them, and on their liberation from jail, gave them a public dinner as a matter of triumph!" The witnesses in their favor even went so far as to insist that their character stood high for humanity among the neighboring planters.
I believe there never was a class of people on earth so determined to uphold each other, at all events, as slave-owners.
The following account was originally written by the Rev. William Dickey, of Bloomingsburgh, to the Rev. John Rankin, of Ripley, Ohio. It was published in 1826, in a little volume of letters, on the subject of slavery, by the Rev. Mr. Rankin, who assures us that Mr. Dickey was well acquainted with the circumstances he describes.
"In the county of Livingston, Kentucky, near the mouth of Cumberland river, lived Lilburn Lewis, the son of Jefferson's sister. He was the wealthy owner of a considerable number of slaves, whom he drove constantly, fed sparingly, and lashed severely. The consequence was, they would run away. Among the rest was an ill-grown boy, about seventeen, who, having just returned from a skulking spell, was sent to the spring for water, and, in returning, let fall an elegant pitcher, which dashed to shivers on the rocks. It was night, and the slaves were all at home. The master had them collected into the most roomy negro-house, and a rousing fire made." (Reader, what follows is very shocking; but I have already said we must not allow our nerves to be more sensitive than our consciences. If such things are done in our country, it is important that we should know of them, and seriously reflect upon them.) "The door was fastened, that none of the negroes, either through fear or sympathy, should attempt to escape; he then told them that the design of this meeting was to teach them to remain at home and obey his orders. All things being now in train, George was called up, and by the assistance of his younger brother, laid on a broad bench or block. The master then cut off his ancles with a broad axe. In vain the unhappy victim screamed. Not a hand among so many dared to interfere. Having cast the feet into the fire, he lectured the negroes at some length. He then proceeded to cut off his limbs below the knees. The sufferer besought him to begin with his head. It was in vain—the master went on thus, until trunk, arms, and head, were all in the fire. Still protracting the intervals with lectures, and threatenings of like punishment, in case any of them were disobedient, or ran away, or disclosed the tragedy they were compelled to witness. In order to consume the bones, the fire was briskly stirred until midnight: when, as if heaven and earth combined to show their detestation of the deed, a sudden shock of earthquake threw down the heavy wall, composed of rock and clay, extinguished the fire, and covered the remains of George. The negroes were allowed to disperse, with charges to keep the secret, under the penalty of like punishment. When his wife asked the cause of the dreadful screams she had heard, he said that he had never enjoyed himself so well at a ball as he had enjoyed himself that evening. Next morning, he ordered the wall to be rebuilt, and he himself superintended, picking up the remains of the boy, and placing them within the new wall, thus hoping to conceal the matter. But some of the negroes whispered the horrid deed; the neighbors tore down the wall, and finding the remains, they testified against him. He was bound over to await the sitting of the court; but before that period arrived, he committed suicide."
"N. B. This happened in 1811; if I be correct, it was on the 16th of December. It was on the Sabbath."
Mr. Rankin adds, there was little probability that Mr. Lewis would have fallen under the sentence of the law. Notwithstanding the peculiar enormity of his offence, there were individuals who combined to let him out of prison, in order to screen him from justice.
Another instance of summary punishment inflicted on a runaway slave, is told by a respectable gentleman from South Carolina, with whom I am acquainted. He was young, when the circumstance occurred, in the neighborhood of his home; and it filled him with horror. A slave being missing, several planters united in a negro hunt, as it is called. They set out with dogs, guns, and horses, as they would to chase a tiger. The poor fellow, being discovered, took refuge in a tree; where he was deliberately shot by his pursuers.
In some of the West Indies, blood-hounds are employed to hunt negroes; and this fact is the foundation of one of the most painfully interesting scenes in Miss Martineau's Demerara. A writer by the name of Dallas has the hardihood to assert that it is mere sophistry to censure the practice of training dogs to devour men. He asks, "Did not the Asiatics employ elephants in war? If a man were bitten by a mad dog, would he hesitate to cut off the wounded part in order to save his life?"
It is said that when the first pack of blood-hounds arrived in St. Domingo, the white planters delivered to them the first negro they found, merely by way of experiment: and when they saw him immediately torn in pieces, they were highly delighted to find the dogs so well trained to their business.
Some authentic records of female cruelty would seem perfectly incredible, were it not an established law of our nature that tyranny becomes a habit, and scenes of suffering, often repeated, render the heart callous.
A young friend of mine, remarkable for the kindness of his disposition and the courtesy of his manners, told me that he was really alarmed at the change produced in his character by a few months' residence in the West Indies. The family who owned the plantation were absent, and he saw nothing around him but slaves; the consequence was that he insensibly acquired a dictatorial manner, and habitual disregard to the convenience of his inferiors. The candid admonition of a friend made him aware of this, and his natural amiability was restored.
The ladies who remove from the free States into the slaveholding ones almost invariably write that the sight of slavery was at first exceedingly painful; but that they soon become habituated to it; and, after awhile, they are very apt to vindicate the system, upon the ground that it is extremely convenient to have such submissive servants. This reason was actually given by a lady of my acquaintance, who is considered an unusually fervent Christian. Yet Christianity expressly teaches us to love our neighbor as ourselves. This shows how dangerous it is, for even the best of us, to become accustomed to what is wrong.
A judicious and benevolent friend lately told me the story of one of her relatives, who married a slave-owner, and removed to his plantation. The lady in question was considered very amiable, and had a serene, affectionate expression of countenance. After several years' residence among her slaves, she visited New-England. "Her history was written in her face," said my friend; "its expression had changed into that of a fiend. She brought but few slaves with her; and those few were of course compelled to perform additional labor. One faithful negro-woman nursed the twins of her mistress, and did all the washing, ironing, and scouring. If, after a sleepless night with the restless babes, (driven from the bosom of their own mother,) she performed her toilsome avocations with diminished activity, her mistress, with her own lady-like hands, applied the cowskin, and the neighborhood resounded with the cries of her victim. The instrument of punishment was actually kept hanging in the entry, to the no small disgust of her New-England visiters. For my part," continued my friend, "I did not try to be polite to her; for I was not hypocrite enough to conceal my indignation."
The following occurred near Natchez, and was told to me by a highly intelligent man, who, being a diplomatist and a courtier, was very likely to make the best of national evils: A planter had occasion to send a female slave some distance on an errand. She did not return so soon as he expected, and he grew angry. At last he gave orders that she should be severely whipped when she came back. When the poor creature arrived, she pleaded for mercy, saying she had been so very ill, that she was obliged to rest in the fields; but she was ordered to receive another dozen lashes, for having had the impudence to speak. She died at the whipping-post; nor did she perish alone—a new-born baby died with her. The gentleman who told me this fact, witnessed the poor creature's funeral. It is true, the master was universally blamed and shunned for the cruel deed; but the laws were powerless.
I shall be told that such examples as these are of rare occurrence; and I have no doubt that instances of excessive severity are far from being common. I believe that a large proportion of masters are as kind to their slaves as they can be, consistently with keeping them in bondage; but it must be allowed that this, to make the best of it, is very stinted kindness. And let it never be forgotten that the negro's fate depends entirely on the character of his master; and it is a mere matter of chance whether he fall into merciful or unmerciful hands; his happiness, nay, his very life, depends on chance.
The slave-owners are always telling us, that the accounts of slave misery are abominably exaggerated; and their plea is supported by many individuals, who seem to think that charity was made to cover sins, not to cure them. But without listening to the zealous opposers of slavery, we shall find in the judicial reports of the Southern States, and in the ordinary details of their newspapers, more than enough to startle us; besides, we must not forget that where one instance of cruelty comes to our knowledge, hundreds are kept secret; and the more public attention is awakened to the subject, the more caution will be used in this respect.
Why should we be deceived by the sophistry of those whose interest it is to gloss over iniquity, and who from long habit have learned to believe that it is no iniquity? It is a very simple process to judge rightly in this matter. Just ask yourself the question where you could find a set of men, in whose power you would be willing to place yourself, if the laws allowed them to sin against you with impunity?
But it is urged that it is the interest of planters to treat their slaves well. This argument no doubt has some force; and it is the poor negro's only security. But it is likewise the interest of men to treat their cattle kindly; yet we see that passion and short-sighted avarice do overcome the strongest motives of interest. Cattle are beat unmercifully, sometimes unto death; they are ruined by being over-worked; weakened by want of sufficient food; and so forth. Besides, it is sometimes directly for the interest of the planter to work his slaves beyond their strength. When there is a sudden rise in the prices of sugar, a certain amount of labor in a given time is of more consequence to the owner of a plantation than the price of several slaves; he can well afford to waste a few lives. This is no idle hypothesis—such calculations are gravely and openly made by planters. Hence, it is the slave's prayer that sugars may be cheap. When the negro is old, or feeble from incurable disease, is it his master's interest to feed him well, and clothe him comfortably? Certainly not: it then becomes desirable to get rid of the human brute as soon as convenient. It is a common remark, that it is not quite safe, in most cases, for even parents to be entirely dependant on the generosity of their children; and if human nature be such, what has the slave to expect, when he becomes a mere bill of expense?
It is a common retort to say that New-Englanders who go to the South, soon learn to patronize the system they have considered so abominable, and often become proverbial for their severity. I have not the least doubt of the fact; for slavery contaminates all that comes within its influence. It would be very absurd to imagine that the inhabitants of one State are worse than the inhabitants of another, unless some peculiar circumstances, of universal influence, tend to make them so. Human nature is every where the same; but developed differently, by different incitements and temptations. It is the business of wise legislation to discover what influences are most productive of good, and the least conducive to evil. If we were educated at the South, we should no doubt vindicate slavery, and inherit as a birthright all the evils it engrafts upon the character. If they lived on our rocky soil, and under our inclement skies, their shrewdness would sometimes border upon knavery, and their frugality sometimes degenerate into parsimony. We both have our virtues and our faults, induced by the influences under which we live, and, of course, totally different in their character. Our defects are bad enough; but they cannot, like slavery, affect the destiny and rights of millions.
All this mutual recrimination about horse-jockeys, gamblers, tin-pedlers, and venders of wooden-nutmegs, is quite unworthy of a great nation. Instead of calmly examining this important subject on the plain grounds of justice and humanity, we allow it to degenerate into a mere question of sectional pride and vanity. [Pardon the Americanism, would we had less use for the word!] It is the system, not the men, on which we ought to bestow the full measure of abhorrence. If we were willing to forget ourselves, and could like true republicans, prefer the common good to all other considerations, there would not be a slave in the United States, at the end of half a century.
The arguments in support of slavery are all hollow and deceptive, though frequently very specious. No one thinks of finding a foundation for the system in the principles of truth and justice; and the unavoidable result is, that even in policy it is unsound. The monstrous fabric rests on the mere appearance of present expediency; while, in fact, all its tendencies, individual and national, present and remote, are highly injurious to the true interests of the country. The slave-owner will not believe this. The stronger the evidence against his favorite theories, the more strenuously he defends them. It has been wisely said, "Honesty is the best policy; but policy without honesty never finds that out."
I hope none will be so literal as to suppose I intend to say that no planter can be honest, in the common acceptation of that term. I simply mean that all who ground their arguments in policy, and not in duty and plain truth, are really blind to the highest and best interests of man.
Among other apologies for slavery, it has been asserted that the Bible does not forbid it. Neither does it forbid the counterfeiting of a bank-bill. It is the spirit of the Holy Word, not its particular expressions, which must be a rule for our conduct. How can slavery be reconciled with the maxim, "Do unto others, as ye would that others should do unto you?" Does not the command, "Thou shalt not steal," prohibit kidnapping? And how does whipping men to death agree with the injunction, "Thou shalt do no murder?" Are we not told "to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?" It was a Jewish law that he who stole a man, or sold him, or he in whose hands the stolen man was found, should suffer death; and he in whose house a fugitive slave sought an asylum was forbidden to give him up to his master. Modern slavery is so unlike Hebrew servitude, and its regulations are so diametrically opposed to the rules of the Gospel, which came to bring deliverance to the captive, that it is idle to dwell upon this point. The advocates of this system seek for arguments in the history of every age and nation; but the fact is, negro-slavery is totally different from any other form of bondage that ever existed; and if it were not so, are we to copy the evils of bad governments and benighted ages?
The difficulty of subduing slavery, on account of the great number of interests which become united in it, and the prodigious strength of the selfish passions enlisted in its support, is by no means its least alarming feature. This Hydra has ten thousand heads, every one of which will bite or growl, when the broad daylight of truth lays open the secrets of its hideous den.
I shall perhaps be asked why I have said so much about the slave-trade, since it was long ago abolished in this country? There are several good reasons for it. In the first place, it is a part of the system; for if there were no slaves, there could be no slave-trade; and while there are slaves, the slave-trade will continue. In the next place, the trade is still briskly carried on in Africa, and slaves are smuggled into these States through the Spanish colonies. In the third place, a very extensive internal slave-trade is carried on in this country. The breeding of negro-cattle for the foreign markets, (of Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, and Missouri,) is a very lucrative branch of business. Whole coffles of them, chained and manacled, are driven through our Capital on their way to auction. Foreigners, particularly those who come here with enthusiastic ideas of American freedom, are amazed and disgusted at the sight.[G] A troop of slaves once passed through Washington on the fourth of July, while drums were beating, and standards flying. One of the captive negroes raised his hand, loaded with irons, and waving it toward the starry flag, sung with a smile of bitter irony, "Hail Columbia! happy land!"
[Footnote G: See the second volume of Stuart's "Three years in North America." Instead of being angry at such truths, it would be wise to profit by them.]
In the summer of 1822, a coffle of slaves, driven through Kentucky, was met by the Rev. James H. Dickey, just before it entered Paris. He describes it thus: "About forty black men were chained together; each of them was hand-cuffed, and they were arranged rank and file. A chain, perhaps forty feet long, was stretched between the two ranks, to which short chains were joined, connected with the hand-cuffs. Behind them were about thirty women, tied hand to hand. Every countenance wore a solemn sadness; and the dismal silence of despair was only broken by the sound of two violins. Yes—as if to add insult to injury, the foremost couple were furnished with a violin a-piece; the second couple were ornamented with cockades; while near the centre our national standard was carried by hands literally in chains. I may have mistaken some of the punctilios of the arrangement, for my very soul was sick. My landlady was sister to the man who owned the drove; and from her I learned that he had, a few days previous, bought a negro-woman, who refused to go with him. A blow on the side of her head with the butt of his whip, soon brought her to the ground; he then tied her, and carried her off. Besides those I saw, about thirty negroes, destined for the New-Orleans market, were shut up in the Paris jail, for safe-keeping."
But Washington is the great emporium of the internal slave-trade! The United States jail is a perfect storehouse for slave merchants; and some of the taverns may be seen so crowded with negro captives that they have scarcely room to stretch themselves on the floor to sleep. Judge Morrel, in his charge to the grand jury at Washington, in 1816, earnestly called their attention to this subject. He said, "the frequency with which the streets of the city had been crowded with manacled captives, sometimes even on the Sabbath, could not fail to shock the feelings of all humane persons; that it was repugnant to the spirit of our political institutions, and the rights of man; and he believed it was calculated to impair the public morals, by familiarizing scenes of cruelty to the minds of youth."
A free man of color is in constant danger of being seized and carried off by these slave-dealers. Mr. Cooper, a Representative in Congress from Delaware, told Dr. Torrey, of Philadelphia, that he was often afraid to send his servants out in the evening, lest they should be encountered by kidnappers. Wherever these notorious slave-jockeys appear in our Southern States, the free people of color hide themselves, as they are obliged to do on the coast of Africa.
The following is the testimony of Dr. Torrey, of Philadelphia, published in 1817:
"To enumerate all the horrid and aggravating instances of man-stealing, which are known to have occurred in the State of Delaware, within the recollection of many of the citizens of that State, would require a volume. In many cases, whole families of free colored people have been attacked in the night, beaten nearly to death with clubs, gagged and bound, and dragged into distant and hopeless captivity, leaving no traces behind, except the blood from their wounds.
"During the last winter, the house of a free black family was broken open, and its defenceless inhabitants treated in the manner just mentioned, except, that the mother escaped from their merciless grasp, while on their way to the State of Maryland. The plunderers, of whom there were nearly half a dozen, conveyed their prey upon horses; and the woman being placed on one of the horses, behind, improved an opportunity, as they were passing a house, and sprang off. Not daring to pursue her, they proceeded on, leaving her youngest child a little farther along, by the side of the road, in expectation, it is supposed, that its cries would attract the mother; but she prudently waited until morning, and recovered it again in safety.
"I consider myself more fully warranted in particularizing this fact, from the circumstances of having been at Newcastle, at the time that the woman was brought with her child, before the grand jury, for examination; and of having seen several of the persons against whom bills of indictment were found, on the charge of being engaged in the perpetration of the outrage; and also that one or two of them were the same who were accused of assisting in seizing and carrying off another woman and child whom I discovered at Washington. A monster in human shape, was detected in the city of Philadelphia, pursuing the occupation of courting and marrying mulatto women, and selling them as slaves. In his last attempt of this kind, the fact having come to the knowledge of the African population of this city, a mob was immediately collected, and he was only saved from being torn in atoms, by being deposited in the city prison. They have lately invented a method of attaining their object, through the instrumentality of the laws:—Having selected a suitable free colored person, to make a pitch upon, the kidnapper employs a confederate, to ascertain the distinguishing marks of his body; he then claims and obtains him as a slave, before a magistrate, by describing those marks, and proving the truth of his assertions, by his well-instructed accomplice.
"From the best information that I have had opportunities to collect, in travelling by various routes through the States of Delaware and Maryland, I am fully convinced that there are, at this time, within the jurisdiction of the United States, several thousands of legally free people of color, toiling under the yoke of involuntary servitude, and transmitting the same fate to their posterity! If the probability of this fact could be authenticated to the recognition of the Congress of the United States, it is presumed that its members, as agents of the constitution, and guardians of the public liberty, would, without hesitation, devise means for the restoration of those unhappy victims of violence and avarice, to their freedom and constitutional personal rights. The work, both from its nature and magnitude, is impracticable to individuals, or benevolent societies; besides, it is perfectly a national business, and claims national interference, equally with the captivity of our sailors in Algiers."
It may indeed be said, in palliation of the internal slave-trade, that the horrors of the middle passage are avoided. But still the amount of misery is very great. Husbands and wives, parents and children, are rudely torn from each other;—there can be no doubt of this fact: advertisements are very common, in which a mother and her children are offered either in a lot, or separately, as may suit the purchaser. In one of these advertisements, I observed it stated that the youngest child was about a year old.[H]
[Footnote H: In Niles's Register, vol. xxxv, page 4, I find the following: "Dealing in slaves has become a large business. Establishments are made at several places in Maryland and Virginia, at which they are sold like cattle. These places are strongly built, and well supplied with thumbscrews, gags, cowskins and other whips, oftentimes bloody. But the laws permit the traffic, and it is suffered."]
The captives are driven by the whip, through toilsome journeys, under a burning sun; their limbs fettered; with nothing before them but the prospect of toil more severe than that to which they have been accustomed.[I]
[Footnote I: In the sugar-growing States the condition of the negro is much more pitiable than where cotton is the staple commodity.]
The disgrace of such scenes in the capital of our republic cannot be otherwise than painful to every patriotic mind; while they furnish materials for the most pungent satire to other nations. A United States senator declared that the sight of a drove of slaves was so insupportable that he always avoided it when he could; and an intelligent Scotchman said, when he first entered Chesapeake Bay, and cast his eye along our coast, the sight of the slaves brought his heart into his throat. How can we help feeling a sense of shame, when we read Moore's contemptuous couplet,
"The fustian flag that proudly waves, In splendid mockery, o'er a land of slaves?"
The lines would be harmless enough, if they were false; the sting lies in their truth.
Finally, I have described some of the horrors of the slave-trade, because when our constitution was formed, the government pledged itself not to abolish this traffic until 1808. We began our career of freedom by granting a twenty years' lease of iniquity—twenty years of allowed invasion of other men's rights—twenty years of bloodshed, violence, and fraud! And this will be told in our annals—this will be heard of to the end of time!
While the slave-trade was allowed, the South could use it to advance their views in various ways. In their representation to Congress, five slaves counted the same as three freemen; of course, every fresh cargo was not only an increase of property, but an increase of political power. Ample time was allowed to lay in a stock of slaves to supply the new slave states and territories that might grow up; and when this was effected, the prohibition of foreign commerce in human flesh, operated as a complete tariff, to protect the domestic supply.
Every man who buys a slave promotes this traffic, by raising the value of the article; every man who owns a slave, indirectly countenances it; every man who allows that slavery is a lamentable necessity, contributes his share to support it; and he who votes for admitting a slave-holding State into the Union, fearfully augments the amount of this crime.
COMPARATIVE VIEW OF SLAVERY, IN DIFFERENT AGES AND NATIONS.
"E'en from my tongue some heartfelt truths may fall; And outraged Nature claims the care of all. These wrongs in any place would force a tear; But call for stronger, deeper feeling here."
"Oh, sons of freedom! equalize your laws— Be all consistent—plead the negro's cause— Then all the nations in your code may see, That, black or white, Americans are free."
Between ancient and modern slavery there is this remarkable distinction—the former originated in motives of humanity; the latter is dictated solely by avarice. The ancients made slaves of captives taken in war, as an amelioration of the original custom of indiscriminate slaughter; the moderns attack defenceless people, without any provocation, and steal them, for the express purpose of making them slaves.
Modern slavery, indeed, in all its particulars, is more odious than the ancient; and it is worthy of remark that the condition of slaves has always been worse just in proportion to the freedom enjoyed by their masters. In Greece, none were so proud of liberty as the Spartans; and they were a proverb among the neighboring States for their severity to slaves. The slave code of the Roman republic was rigid and tyrannical in the extreme; and cruelties became so common and excessive, that the emperors, in the latter days of Roman power, were obliged to enact laws to restrain them. In the modern world, England and America are the most conspicuous for enlightened views of freedom, and bold vindication of the equal rights of man; yet in these two countries slave laws have been framed as bad as they were in Pagan, iron-hearted Rome; and the customs are in some respects more oppressive;—modern slavery unquestionably wears its very worst aspect in the Colonies of England and the United States of North America. I hardly know how to decide their respective claims. My countrymen are fond of pre-eminence, and I am afraid they deserve it here—especially if we throw into the scale their loud boasts of superiority over all the rest of the world in civil and religious freedom. The slave codes of the United States and of the British West Indies were originally almost precisely the same; but their laws have been growing milder and milder, while ours have increased in severity. The British have the advantage of us in this respect—they long ago dared to describe the monster as it is; and they are now grappling with it, with the overwhelming strength of a great nation's concentrated energies.—The Dutch, those sturdy old friends of liberty, and the French, who have been stark mad for freedom, rank next for the severity of their slave laws and customs. The Spanish and Portuguese are milder than either.
I will give a brief view of some of our own laws on this subject; for the correctness of which, I refer the reader to Stroud's Sketch of the Slave Laws of the United States of America. In the first place, we will inquire upon what ground the negro slaves in this country are claimed as property. Most of them are the descendants of persons kidnapped on the coast of Africa, and brought here while we were British Colonies; and as the slave-trade was openly sanctioned more than twenty years after our acknowledged independence, in 1783, and as the traffic is still carried on by smugglers, there are, no doubt, thousands of slaves, now living in the United States, who are actually stolen from Africa.[J]
[Footnote J: In the new slave States, there are a great many negroes, who can speak no other language than some of the numerous African dialects.]
A provincial law of Maryland enacted that any white woman who married a negro slave should serve his master during her husband's lifetime, and that all their children should be slaves. This law was not repealed until the end of eighteen years, and it then continued in full force with regard to those who had contracted such marriages in the intermediate time; therefore the descendants of white women so situated may be slaves unto the present day. The doctrine of the common law is that the offspring shall follow the condition of the father; but slave law (with the above temporary exception) reverses the common law, and provides that children shall follow the condition of the mother. Hence mulattoes and their descendants are held in perpetual bondage, though the father is a free white man. "Any person whose maternal ancestor, even in the remotest degree of distance, can be shown to have been a negro, Indian, mulatto, or a mestizo, not free at the time this law was introduced, although the paternal ancestor at each successive generation may have been a white free man, is declared to be the subject of perpetual slavery." Even the code of Jamaica, is on this head, more liberal than ours; by an express law, slavery ceases at the fourth degree of distance from a negro ancestor: and in the other British West Indies, the established custom is such, that quadroons or mestizoes (as they call the second and third degrees) are rarely seen in a state of slavery. Here, neither law nor public opinion favors the mulatto descendants of free white men. This furnishes a convenient game to the slaveholder—it enables him to fill his purse by means of his own vices;—the right to sell one half of his children provides a fortune for the remainder.—Had the maxim of the common law been allowed,—i. e. that the offspring follows the condition of the father,—the mulattoes, almost without exception, would have been free, and thus the prodigious and alarming increase of our slave population might have been prevented. The great augmentation of the servile class in the Southern States, compared with the West India colonies, has been thought to indicate a much milder form of slavery; but there are other causes, which tend to produce the result. There are much fewer white men in the British West Indies than in our slave States; hence the increase of the mulatto population is less rapid. Here the descendants of a colored mother never become free; in the West Indies, they cease to be slaves in the fourth generation, at farthest; and their posterity increase the free colored class, instead of adding countless links to the chain of bondage.
The manufacture of sugar is extremely toilsome, and when driven hard, occasions a great waste of negro life; this circumstance, together with the tropical climate of the West Indies, furnish additional reasons for the disproportionate increase of slaves between those islands and our own country, where a comparatively small quantity of sugar is cultivated.
It may excite surprise, that Indians and their offspring are comprised in the doom of perpetual slavery; yet not only is incidental mention of them as slaves to be met with in the laws of most of the States of our confederacy, but in one, at least, direct legislation may be cited to sanction their enslavement. In Virginia, an act was passed, in 1679, declaring that "for the better encouragement of soldiers, whatever Indian prisoners were taken in a war, in which the colony was then engaged, should be free purchase to the soldiers taking them;" and in 1682, it was decreed that "all servants brought into Virginia, by sea or land, not being Christians, whether negroes, Moors, mulattoes, or Indians, (except Turks and Moors in amity with Great Britain) and all Indians, which should thereafter be sold by neighboring Indians, or any other trafficking with us, as slaves, should be slaves to all intents and purposes." These laws ceased in 1691; but the descendants of all Indians sold in the intermediate time are now among slaves.
In order to show the true aspect of slavery among us, I will state distinct propositions, each supported by the evidence of actually existing laws.
1. Slavery is hereditary and perpetual, to the last moment of the slave's earthly existence, and to all his descendants, to the latest posterity.
2. The labor of the slave is compulsory and uncompensated; while the kind of labor, the amount of toil, and the time allowed for rest, are dictated solely by the master. No bargain is made, no wages given. A pure despotism governs the human brute; and even his covering and provender, both as to quantity and quality, depend entirely on the master's discretion.
3. The slave being considered a personal chattel, may be sold, or pledged, or leased, at the will of his master. He may be exchanged for marketable commodities, or taken in execution for the debts, or taxes, either of a living, or a deceased master. Sold at auction, "either individually, or in lots to suit the purchaser," he may remain with his family, or be separated from them for ever.
4. Slaves can make no contracts, and have no legal right to any property, real or personal. Their own honest earnings, and the legacies of friends belong, in point of law, to their masters.
5. Neither a slave, nor free colored person, can be a witness against any white or free man, in a court of justice, however atrocious may have been the crimes they have seen him commit: but they may give testimony against a fellow-slave, or free colored man, even in cases affecting life.
6. The slave may be punished at his master's discretion—without trial—without any means of legal redress,—whether his offence be real, or imaginary: and the master can transfer the same despotic power to any person, or persons, he may choose to appoint.
7. The slave is not allowed to resist any free man under any circumstances: his only safety consists in the fact that his owner may bring suit, and recover, the price of his body, in case his life is taken, or his limbs rendered unfit for labor.
8. Slaves cannot redeem themselves, or obtain a change of masters, though cruel treatment may have rendered such a change necessary for their personal safety.
9. The slave is entirely unprotected in his domestic relations.
10. The laws greatly obstruct the manumission of slaves, even where the master is willing to enfranchise them.
11. The operation of the laws tends to deprive slaves of religious instruction and consolation.
12. The whole power of the laws is exerted to keep slaves in a state of the lowest ignorance.
13. There is in this country a monstrous inequality of law and right. What is a trifling fault in the white man, is considered highly criminal in the slave; the same offences which cost a white man a few dollars only, are punished in the negro with death.
14. The laws operate most oppressively upon free people of color.
PROPOSITION 1.—Slavery hereditary and perpetual.
In Maryland the following act was passed in 1715, and is still in force: "All negroes and other slaves, already imported, or hereafter to be imported into this province, and all children now born, or hereafter to be born, of such negroes and slaves, shall be slaves during their natural lives." The law of South Carolina is, "All negroes, Indians, (free Indians in amity with this government, and negroes, mulattoes, and mestizoes, who are now free, excepted,) mulattoes or mestizoes, who now are, or shall hereafter be in this province, and all their issue born, or to be born, shall be and remain for ever hereafter absolute slaves, and shall follow the condition of the mother." Laws similar exist in Virginia, Georgia, Mississippi, and Louisiana. In consequence of these laws, people so nearly white as not to be distinguished from Europeans, may be, and have been, legally claimed as slaves.
PROP. 2.—Labor compulsory and uncompensated, &c.
In most of the slave States the law is silent on this subject; but that it is the established custom is proved by laws restraining the excessive abuse of this power, in some of the States. Thus in one State there is a fine of ten shillings, in another of two dollars, for making slaves labor on Sunday, unless it be in works of absolute necessity, or the necessary occasions of the family. There is likewise a law which provides that "any master, who withholds proper sustenance, or clothing, from his slaves, or overworks them, so as to injure their health, shall upon sufficient information [here lies the rub] being laid before the grand jury, be by said jury presented; whereupon it shall be the duty of the attorney, or solicitor-general, to prosecute said owners, who, on conviction, shall be sentenced to pay a fine, or be imprisoned, or both, at the discretion of the court."
The negro act of South Carolina contains the following language: "Whereas many owners of slaves, and others, who have the care, management, and overseeing of slaves, do confine them so closely to hard labor, that they have not sufficient time for natural rest; be it therefore enacted, that if any owner of slaves, or others having the care, &c., shall put such slaves to labor more than fifteen hours in twenty-four, from the twenty-fifth of March to the twenty-fifth of September; or more than fourteen hours in twenty-four hours, from the twenty-fifth of September to the twenty-fifth of March, any such person shall forfeit a sum of money not exceeding twenty pounds, nor under five pounds, current money, for every time he, she, or they, shall offend therein, at the discretion of the justice before whom complaint shall be made."
In Louisiana it is enacted, that "the slaves shall be allowed half an hour for breakfast, during the whole year; from the first of May to the first of November, they shall be allowed two hours for dinner; and from the first of November to the first of May, one hour and a half for dinner: provided, however, that the owners, who will themselves take the trouble of having the meals of their slaves prepared, be, and they are hereby authorized to abridge, by half an hour a day, the time fixed for their rest."
All these laws, apparently for the protection of the slave, are rendered perfectly null and void, by the fact, that the testimony of a negro or mulatto is never taken against a white man. If a slave be found toiling in the field on the Sabbath, who can prove that his master commanded him to do it?
The law of Louisiana stipulates that a slave shall have one linen shirt,[K] and a pair of pantaloons for the summer, and one linen shirt and a woollen great-coat and pantaloons for the winter; and for food, one pint of salt, and a barrel of Indian corn, rice, or beans, every month. In North Carolina, the law decides that a quart of corn per day is sufficient. But, if the slave does not receive this poor allowance, who can prove the fact. The withholding of proper sustenance is absolutely incapable of proof, unless the evidence of the sufferer himself be allowed; and the law, as if determined to obstruct the administration of justice, permits the master to exculpate himself by an oath that the charges against him are false. Clothing may, indeed, be ascertained by inspection; but who is likely to involve himself in quarrels with a white master because a poor negro receives a few rags less than the law provides? I apprehend that a person notorious for such gratuitous acts of kindness, would have little peace or safety, in any slaveholding country.
[Footnote K: This shirt is usually made of a coarse kind of bagging.]
If a negro be compelled to toil night and day, (as it is said they sometimes are,[L] at the season of sugar-making) who is to prove that he works more than his fourteen or fifteen hours? No slave can be a witness for himself, or for his fellow-slaves; and should a white man happen to know the fact, there are ninety-nine chances out of a hundred, that he will deem it prudent to be silent. And here I would remark that even in the island of Jamaica, where the laws have given a most shocking license to cruelty,—even in Jamaica, the slave is compelled to work but ten hours a day, beside having many holidays allowed him. In Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and New-Jersey, the convicts condemned to hard labor in the penitentiaries, are required by law to toil only from eight to ten hours a day, according to the season of the year; yet the law providing that the innocent slave should labor but fourteen or fifteen hours a day, professes to have been made as a merciful amelioration of his lot!—In Rome, the slaves had a yearly festival called the Saturnalia, during which they were released from toil, changed places with their masters, and indulged in unbounded merriment; at first it lasted but one day; but its duration afterwards extended to two, three, four, and five days in succession. We have no Saturnalia here—unless we choose thus to designate a coffle of slaves, on the fourth of July, rattling their chains to the sound of a violin, and carrying the banner of freedom in hands loaded with irons.