An Essay on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species, Particularly the African
by Thomas Clarkson
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Neque premendo alium me extulisse velim.—LIVY.


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The dignity of the subject of this little Treatise, not any persuasion of its merits as a literary composition, encourages me to offer it to your Lordship's patronage. The cause of freedom has always been found sufficient, in every age and country, to attract the notice of the generous and humane; and it is therefore, in a more peculiar manner, worthy of the attention and favour of a personage, who holds a distinguished rank in that illustrious island, the very air of which has been determined, upon a late investigation of its laws, to be an antidote against slavery. I feel a satisfaction in the opportunity, which the publication of this treatise affords me, of acknowledging your Lordship's civilities, which can only be equalled by the respect, with which I am,

Your Lordship's, much obliged, and obedient servant,


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Books Printed and Sold by J. PHILLIPS,

ESSAY on the TREATMENT and CONVERSION of AFRICAN SLAVES in the BRITISH Sugar Colonies. By the Rev. J. RAMSAY, Vicar of Teston in Kent, who resided many Years in the West-Indies. In One Volume, Octavo. Price 5s bound, or 4s in Boards.

An INQUIRY into the Effects of putting a Stop to the African Slave Trade, and of granting Liberty to the Slaves in the British Sugar Colonies. By J. RAMSAY. Price 6d.

A REPLY to the Personal Invectives and Objections contained in two Answers, published by certain anonymous Persons, to an Essay on the Treatment and Conversion of African Slaves, in the British Colonies. By JAMES RAMSAY. Price 2s.

A LETTER from Capt. J.S. SMITH, to the Rev. Mr. HILL, on the State of the Negroe Slaves; to which are added an Introduction, and Remarks on Free Negroes, &c. by J. RAMSAY. Price 6d.

THOUGHTS on the Slavery of the Negroes. Price 4d.

The CASE of our Fellow-Creatures, the Oppressed Africans, respectfully recommended to the serious Consideration of the Legislature of Great-Britain, by the People called Quakers. Price 2d.

A SERIOUS ADDRESS to the Rulers of America, on the Inconsistency of their Conduct respecting Slavery. Price 3d.

A CAUTION to GREAT BRITAIN and her Colonies, in a short Representation of the calamitous State of the enslaved Negroes in the British Dominions. By ANTHONY BENEZET. Price 6d.

A Description of Guinea, its Situation, Produce, and the general Disposition of its Inhabitants; with an Inquiry into the Rise and Progress of the Slave Trade, &c. By ANTHONY BENEZET. Bound 2s. 6d.

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As the subject of the following work has fortunately become of late a topick of conversation, I cannot begin the preface in a manner more satisfactory to the feelings of the benevolent reader, than by giving an account of those humane and worthy persons, who have endeavoured to draw upon it that share of the publick attention which it has obtained.

Among the well disposed individuals, of different nations and ages, who have humanely exerted themselves to suppress the abject personal slavery, introduced in the original cultivation of the European colonies in the western world, Bartholomew de las Casas, the pious bishop of Chiapa, in the fifteenth century, seems to have been the first. This amiable man, during his residence in Spanish America, was so sensibly affected at the treatment which the miserable Indians underwent that he returned to Spain, to make a publick remonstrance before the celebrated emperor Charles the fifth, declaring, that heaven would one day call him to an account for those cruelties, which he then had it in his power to prevent. The speech which he made on the occasion, is now extant, and is a most perfect picture of benevolence and piety.

But his intreaties, by opposition of avarice, were rendered ineffectual: and I do not find by any books which I have read upon the subject, that any other person interfered till the last century, when Morgan Godwyn, a British clergyman, distinguished himself in the cause.

The present age has also produced some zealous and able opposers of the colonial slavery. For about the middle of the present century, John Woolman and Anthony Benezet, two respectable members of the religious society called Quakers, devoted much of their time to the subject. The former travelled through most parts of North America on foot, to hold conversations with the members of his own sect, on the impiety of retaining those in a state of involuntary servitude, who had never given them offence. The latter kept a free school at Philadelphia, for the education of black people. He took every opportunity of pleading in their behalf. He published several treatises against slavery,[001] and gave an hearty proof of his attachment to the cause, by leaving the whole of his fortune in support of that school, to which he had so generously devoted his time and attention when alive.

Till this time it does not appear, that any bodies of men, had collectively interested themselves in endeavouring to remedy the evil. But in the year 1754, the religious society, called Quakers, publickly testified their sentiments upon the subject,[002] declaring, that "to live in ease and plenty by the toil of those, whom fraud and violence had put into their power, was neither consistent with Christianity nor common justice."

Impressed with these sentiments, many of this society immediately liberated their slaves; and though such a measure appeared to be attended with considerable loss to the benevolent individuals, who unconditionally presented them with their freedom, yet they adopted it with pleasure: nobly considering, that to possess a little, in an honourable way, was better than to possess much, through the medium of injustice. Their example was gradually followed by the rest. A general emancipation of the slaves in the possession of Quakers, at length took place; and so effectually did they serve the cause which they had undertaken, that they denied the claim of membership in their religious community, to all such as should hereafter oppose the suggestions of justice in this particular, either by retaining slaves in their possession, or by being in any manner concerned in the slave trade: and it is a fact, that through the vast tract of North America, there is not at this day a single slave in the possession of an acknowledged Quaker.

But though this measure appeared, as has been observed before, to be attended with considerable loss to the benevolent individuals who adopted it, yet, as virtue seldom fails of obtaining its reward, it became ultimately beneficial. Most of the slaves, who were thus unconditionally freed, returned without any solicitation to their former masters, to serve them, at stated wages; as free men. The work, which they now did, was found to better done than before. It was found also, that, a greater quantity was done in the same time. Hence less than the former number of labourers was sufficient. From these, and a variety of circumstances, it appeared, that their plantations were considerably more profitable when worked by free men, than when worked, as before, by slaves; and that they derived therefore, contrary to their expectations, a considerable advantage from their benevolence.

Animated by the example of the Quakers, the members of other sects began to deliberate about adopting the same measure. Some of those of the church of England, of the Roman Catholicks, and of the Presbyterians and Independants, freed their slaves; and there happened but one instance, where the matter was debated, where it was not immediately put in force. This was in Pennsylvania. It was agitated in the synod of the Presbyterians there, to oblige their members to liberate their slaves. The question was negatived by a majority of but one person; and this opposition seemed to arise rather from a dislike to the attempt of forcing such a measure upon the members of that community, than from any other consideration. I have the pleasure of being credibly informed, that the manumission of slaves, or the employment of free men in the plantations, is now daily gaining ground in North America. Should slavery be abolished there, (and it is an event, which, from these circumstances, we may reasonably expect to be produced in time) let it be remembered, that the Quakers will have had the merit of its abolition.

Nor have their brethren here been less assiduous in the cause. As there are happily no slaves in this country, so they have not had the same opportunity of shewing their benevolence by a general emancipation. They have not however omitted to shew it as far as they have been able. At their religious meetings they have regularly inquired if any of their members are concerned in the iniquitous African trade. They have appointed a committee for obtaining every kind of information on the subject, with a view to its suppression, and, about three or four years ago, petitioned parliament on the occasion for their interference and support. I am sorry to add, that their benevolent application was ineffectual, and that the reformation of an evil, productive of consequences equally impolitick and immoral, and generally acknowledged to have long disgraced our national character, is yet left to the unsupported efforts of piety morality and justice, against interest violence and oppression; and these, I blush to acknowledge, too strongly countenanced by the legislative authority of a country, the basis of whose government is liberty.

Nothing can be more clearly shewn, than that an inexhaustible mine of wealth is neglected in Africa, for prosecution of this impious traffick; that, if proper measures were taken, the revenue of this country might be greatly improved, its naval strength increased, its colonies in a more flourishing situation, the planters richer, and a trade, which is now a scene of blood and desolation, converted into one, which might be prosecuted with advantage and honour.

Such have been the exertions of the Quakers in the cause of humanity and virtue. They are still prosecuting, as far as they are able, their benevolent design; and I should stop here and praise them for thus continuing their humane endeavours, but that I conceive it to be unnecessary. They are acting consistently with the principles of religion. They will find a reward in their own consciences; and they will receive more real pleasure from a single reflection on their conduct, than they can possibly experience from the praises of an host of writers.

In giving this short account of those humane and worthy persons, who have endeavoured to restore to their fellow creatures the rights of nature, of which they had been unjustly deprived, I would feel myself unjust, were I to omit two zealous opposers of the colonial tyranny, conspicuous at the present day.

The first is Mr. Granville Sharp. This Gentleman has particularly distinguished himself in the cause of freedom. It is a notorious fact, that, but a few years since, many of the unfortunate black people, who had been brought from the colonies into this country, were sold in the metropolis to merchants and others, when their masters had no farther occasion for their services; though it was always understood that every person was free, as soon as he landed on the British shore. In consequence of this notion, these unfortunate black people, refused to go to the new masters, to whom they were consigned. They were however seized, and forcibly conveyed, under cover of the night, to ships then lying in the Thames, to be retransported to the colonies, and to be delivered again to the planters as merchantable goods. The humane Mr. Sharpe, was the means of putting a stop to this iniquitous traffick. Whenever he gained information of people in such a situation, he caused them to be brought on shore. At a considerable expence he undertook their cause, and was instrumental in obtaining the famous decree in the case of Somersett, that as soon as any person whatever set his foot in this country, he came under the protection of the British laws, and was consequently free. Nor did he interfere less honourably in that cruel and disgraceful case, in the summer of the year 1781, when an hundred and thirty two negroes, in their passage to the colonies, were thrown into the sea alive, to defraud the underwriters; but his pious endeavours were by no means attended with the same success. To enumerate his many laudable endeavours in the extirpation of tyranny and oppression, would be to swell the preface into a volume: suffice it to say, that he has written several books on the subject, and one particularly, which he distinguishes by the title of "A Limitation of Slavery."

The second is the Rev. James Ramsay. This gentleman resided for many years in the West-Indies, in the clerical office. He perused all the colonial codes of law, with a view to find if there were any favourable clauses, by which the grievances of slaves could be redressed; but he was severely disappointed in his pursuits. He published a treatise, since his return to England, called An Essay on the Treatment and Conversion of African Slaves in the British Sugar Colonies, which I recommend to the perusal of the humane reader. This work reflects great praise upon the author, since, in order to be of service to this singularly oppressed part of the human species, he compiled it at the expence of forfeiting that friendship, which he had contracted with many in those parts, during a series of years, and at the hazard, as I am credibly informed, of suffering much, in his private property, as well as of subjecting himself to the ill will and persecution of numerous individuals.

This Essay on the Treatment and Conversion of African Slaves, contains so many important truths on the colonial slavery, and has come so home to the planters, (being written by a person who has a thorough knowledge of the subject) as to have occasioned a considerable alarm. Within the last eight months, two publications have expressly appeared against it. One of them is intitled "Cursory Remarks on Mr. Ramsay's Essay;" the other an "Apology for Negroe Slavery." On each of these I am bound, as writing on the subject, to make a few remarks.

The cursory remarker insinuates, that Mr. Ramsay's account of the treatment is greatly exaggerated, if not wholly false. To this I shall make the following reply. I have the honour of knowing several disinterested gentlemen, who have been acquainted with the West Indian islands for years. I call them disinterested, because they have neither had a concern in the African trade, nor in the colonial slavery: and I have heard these unanimously assert, that Mr. Ramsay's account is so far from being exaggerated, or taken from the most dreary pictures that he could find, that it is absolutely below the truth; that he must have omitted many instances of cruelty, which he had seen himself; and that they only wondered, how he could have written with so much moderation upon the subject. They allow the Cursory Remarks to be excellent as a composition, but declare that it is perfectly devoid of truth.

But the cursory remarker does not depend so much on the circumstances which he has advanced, (nor can he, since they have no other existence than in his own, brain) as on the instrument detraction. This he has used with the utmost virulence through the whole of his publication, artfully supposing, that if he could bring Mr. Ramsay's reputation into dispute, his work would fall of course, as of no authenticity. I submit this simple question to the reader. When a writer, in attempting to silence a publication, attacks the character of its author, rather than the principles of the work itself, is it not a proof that the work itself is unquestionable, and that this writer is at a loss to find an argument against it?

But there is something so very ungenerous in this mode of replication, as to require farther notice. For if this is the mode to be adopted in literary disputes, what writer can be safe? Or who is there, that will not be deterred from taking up his pen in the cause of virtue? There are circumstances in every person's life, which, if given to the publick in a malevolent manner, and without explanation, might essentially injure him in the eyes of the world; though, were they explained, they would be even reputable. The cursory remarker has adopted this method of dispute; but Mr. Ramsay has explained himself to the satisfaction of all parties, and has refuted him in every point. The name of this cursory remarker is Tobin: a name, which I feel myself obliged to hand down with detestation, as far as I am able; and with an hint to future writers, that they will do themselves more credit, and serve more effectually the cause which they undertake, if on such occasions they attack the work, rather than the character of the writer, who affords them a subject for their lucubrations.

Nor is this the only circumstance, which induces me to take such particular notice of the Cursory Remarks. I feel it incumbent upon me to rescue an injured person from the cruel aspersions that have been thrown upon him, as I have been repeatedly informed by those, who have the pleasure of his acquaintance, that his character is irreproachable. I am also interested myself. For if such detraction is passed over in silence, my own reputation, and not my work, may be attacked by an anonymous hireling in the cause of slavery.

The Apology for Negroe Slavery is almost too despicable a composition to merit a reply. I have only therefore to observe, (as is frequently the case in a bad cause, or where writers do not confine themselves to truth) that the work refutes itself. This writer, speaking of the slave-trade, asserts, that people are never kidnapped on the coast of Africa. In speaking of the treatment of slaves, he asserts again, that it is of the very mildest nature, and that they live in the most comfortable and happy manner imaginable. To prove each of his assertions, he proposes the following regulations. That the stealing of slaves from Africa should be felony. That the premeditated murder of a slave by any person on board, should come under the same denomination. That when slaves arrive in the colonies, lands should be allotted for their provisions, in proportion to their number, or commissioners should see that a sufficient quantity of sound wholesome provisions is purchased. That they should not work on Sundays and other holy-days. That extra labour, or night-work, out of crop, should be prohibited. That a limited number of stripes should be inflicted upon them. That they should have annually a suit of clothes. That old infirm slaves should be properly cared for, &c.—Now it can hardly be conceived, that if this author had tried to injure his cause, or contradict himself, he could not have done it in a more effectual manner, than by this proposal of these salutary regulations. For to say that slaves are honourably obtained on the coast; to say that their treatment is of the mildest nature, and yet to propose the above-mentioned regulations as necessary, is to refute himself more clearly, than I confess myself to be able to do it: and I have only to request, that the regulations proposed by this writer, in the defence of slavery, may be considered as so many proofs of the assertions contained in my own work.

I shall close my account with an observation, which is of great importance in the present case. Of all the publications in favour of the slave-trade, or the subsequent slavery in the colonies, there is not one, which has not been written, either by a chaplain to the African factories, or by a merchant, or by a planter, or by a person whose interest has been connected in the cause which he has taken upon him to defend. Of this description are Mr. Tobin, and the Apologist for Negroe Slavery. While on the other hand those, who have had as competent a knowledge of the subject, but not the same interest as themselves, have unanimously condemned it; and many of them have written their sentiments upon it, at the hazard of creating an innumerable host of enemies, and of being subjected to the most malignant opposition. Now, which of these are we to believe on the occasion? Are we to believe those, who are parties concerned, who are interested in the practice?—But the question does not admit of a dispute.

Concerning my own work, it seems proper to observe, that when, the original Latin Dissertation, as the title page expresses, was honoured by the University of Cambridge with the first of their annual prizes for the year 1785, I was waited upon by some gentlemen of respectability and consequence, who requested me to publish it in English. The only objection which occurred to me was this; that having been prevented, by an attention to other studies, from obtaining that critical knowledge of my own language, which was necessary for an English composition, I was fearful of appearing before the publick eye: but that, as they flattered me with the hope, that the publication of it might be of use, I would certainly engage to publish it, if they would allow me to postpone it for a little time, till I was more in the habit of writing. They replied, that as the publick attention was now excited to the case of the unfortunate Africans, it would be serving the cause with double the effect, if it were to be published within a few months. This argument prevailed. Nothing but this circumstance could have induced me to offer an English composition to the inspection of an host of criticks: and I trust therefore that this circumstance will plead much with the benevolent reader, in favour of those faults, which he may find in the present work.

Having thus promised to publish it, I was for some time doubtful from which of the copies to translate. There were two, the original, and an abridgement. The latter (as these academical compositions are generally of a certain length) was that which was sent down to Cambridge, and honoured with the prize. I was determined however, upon consulting with my friends, to translate from the former. This has been faithfully done with but few[003] additions. The reader will probably perceive the Latin idiom in several passages of the work, though I have endeavoured, as far as I have been able, to avoid it. And I am so sensible of the disadvantages under which it must yet lie, as a translation, that I wish I had written upon the subject, without any reference at all to the original copy.

It will perhaps be asked, from what authority I have collected those facts, which relate to the colonial slavery. I reply, that I have had the means of the very best of information on the subject; having the pleasure of being acquainted with many, both in the naval and military departments, as well as with several others, who have been long acquainted with America and the West-Indian islands. The facts therefore which I have related, are compiled from the disinterested accounts of these gentlemen, all of whom, I have the happiness to say, have coincided, in the minutest manner, in their descriptions. It mud be remarked too, that they were compiled, not from what these gentlemen heard, while they were resident in those parts, but from what they actually saw. Nor has a single instance been taken from any book whatever upon the subject, except that which is mentioned in the 235th page; and this book was published in France, in the year 1777, by authority.

I have now the pleasure to say, that the accounts of these disinterested gentlemen, whom I consulted on the occasion, are confirmed by all the books which I have ever perused upon slavery, except those which have been written by merchants, planters, &c. They are confirmed by Sir Hans Sloane's Voyage to Barbadoes; Griffith Hughes's History of the same island, printed 1750; an Account of North America, by Thomas Jeffries, 1761; all Benezet's works, &c. &c. and particularly by Mr. Ramsay's Essay on the Treatment and Conversion of the African Slaves in the British Sugar Colonies; a work which is now firmly established; and, I may add in a very extraordinary manner, in consequence of the controversy which this gentleman has sustained with the Cursory Remarker, by which several facts which were mentioned in the original copy of my own work, before the controversy began, and which had never appeared in any work upon the subject, have been brought to light. Nor has it received less support from a letter, published only last week, from Capt. J.S. Smith, of the Royal Navy, to the Rev. Mr. Hill; on the former of whom too high encomiums cannot be bestowed, for standing forth in that noble and disinterested manner, in behalf of an injured character.

I have now only to solicit the reader again, that he will make a favourable allowance for the present work, not only from those circumstances which I have mentioned, but from the consideration, that only two months are allowed by the University for these their annual compositions. Should he however be unpropitious to my request, I must console myself with the reflection, (a reflection that will always afford me pleasure, even amidst the censures of the great,) that by undertaking the cause of the unfortunate Africans, I have undertaken, as far as my abilities would permit, the cause of injured innocence.

London, June 1st 1786.

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[Footnote 001: A Description of Guinea, with an Inquiry into the Rise and Progress of the Slave Trade, &c.—A Caution to Great Britain and her Colonies, in a short Representation of the calamitous State of the enslaved Negroes in the British Dominions. Besides several smaller pieces.]

[Footnote 002: They had censured the African Trade in the year 1727, but had taken no publick notice of the colonial slavery till this time.]

[Footnote 003: The instance of the Dutch colonists at the Cape, in the first part of the Essay; the description of an African battle, in the second; and the poetry of a negroe girl in the third, are the only considerable additions that have been made.]

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The History of Slavery.

CHAP. I. Introduction.—Division of slavery into voluntary and involuntary.—The latter the subject of the present work.—Chap. II. The first class of involuntary slaves among the ancients, from war.—Conjecture concerning their antiquity.—Chap. III. The second class from piracy.—Short history of piracy.—The dance carpoea.—Considerations from hence on the former topick.—Three orders of involuntary slaves among the ancients.—Chap. IV. Their personal treatment.—Exception in AEgypt.—Exception at Athens.—Chap. V. The causes of such treatment among the ancients in general.—Additional causes among the Greeks and Romans.—A refutation of their principles.—Remarks on the writings of AEsop.—Chap. VI. The ancient slave-trade.—Its antiquity.—AEgypt the first market recorded for this species of traffick.—Cyprus the second.—The agreement of the writings of Moses and Homer on the subject.—The universal prevalence of the trade.—Chap. VII. The decline of this commerce and slavery in Europe.—The causes of their decline.—Chap. VIII. Their revival in Africa.—Short history of their revival.—Five classes of involuntary slaves among the moderns.—Cruel instance of the Dutch colonists at the Cape.

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The African Commerce or Slave-Trade.

CHAP. I. The history of mankind from their first situation to a state of government.—Chap. II. An account of the first governments.—Chap. III. Liberty a natural right.—That of government adventitious.—Government, its nature.—Its end.—Chap. IV. Mankind cannot be considered as property.—An objection answered.—Chap. V. Division of the commerce into two parts, as it relates to those who sell, and those who purchase the human species into slavery.—The right of the sellers examined with respect to the two orders of African slaves, "of those who are publickly seized by virtue of the authority of their prince, and of those, who are kidnapped by individuals."—Chap. VI. Their right with respect to convicts.—From the proportion of the punishment to the offence.—From its object and end.—Chap. VII. Their right with respect to prisoners of war.—The jus captivitatis, or right of capture explained.—Its injustice.—Farther explication of the right of capture, in answer to some supposed objections.—Chap. VIII. Additional remarks on the two orders that were first mentioned.—The number which they annually contain.—A description of an African battle.—Additional remarks on prisoners of war.—On convicts.—Chap. IX. The right of the purchasers examined.—Conclusion.

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The Slavery of the Africans in the European Colonies.

CHAP. I. Imaginary scene in Africa.—Imaginary conversation with an African.—His ideas of Christianity.—A Description of a body of slaves going to the ships.—Their embarkation.—Chap. II. Their treatment on board.—The number that annually perish in the voyage.—Horrid instance at sea.—Their debarkation in the colonies.—Horrid instance on the shore.—Chap. III. The condition of their posterity in the colonies.—The lex nativitatis explained.—Its injustice.—Chap. IV. The seasoning in the colonies.—The number that annually die in the seasoning.—The employment of the survivors.—The colonial discipline.—Its tendency to produce cruelty.—Horrid instance of this effect.—Immoderate labour, and its consequences.—Want of food and its consequences.—Severity and its consequences.—The forlorn situation of slaves.—An appeal to the memory of Alfred.—Chap. V. The contents of the two preceding chapters denied by the purchasers.—Their first argument refuted.—Their second refuted.—Their third refuted.—Chap. VI. Three arguments, which they bring in vindication of their treatment, refuted.—Chap. VII. The argument, that the Africans are an inferiour link of the chain of nature, as far as it relates to their genius, refuted.—The causes of this apparent inferiority.—Short dissertation on African genius.—Poetry of an African girl.—Chap. VIII. The argument, that they are an inferiour link of the chain of nature, as far as it relates to colour, &c. refuted.—Examination of the divine writings in this particular.—Dissertation on the colour.—Chap. IX. Other arguments of the purchasers examined.—Their comparisons unjust.—Their assertions, with respect to the happy situation of the Africans in the colonies, without foundation.—Their happiness examined with respect to manumission.—With respect to holy-days.—Dances, &c.—An estimate made at St. Domingo.—Chap. X. The right of the purchasers over their slaves refuted upon their own principles.—Chap. XI. Dreadful arguments against this commerce and slavery of the human species.—How the Deity seems already to punish us for this inhuman violation of his laws.—Conclusion.

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For Dominique, (Footnote 107) read Domingue.

N. B. In page 18 a Latin note has been inserted by mistake, under the quotation of Diodorus Siculus. The reader will find the original Greek of the same signification, in the same author, at page 49. Editio Stephani.

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When civilized, as well as barbarous nations, have been found, through a long succession of ages, uniformly to concur in the same customs, there seems to arise a presumption, that such customs are not only eminently useful, but are founded also on the principles of justice. Such is the case with respect to Slavery: it has had the concurrence of all the nations, which history has recorded, and the repeated practice of ages from the remotest antiquity, in its favour. Here then is an argument, deduced from the general consent and agreement of mankind, in favour of the proposed subject: but alas! when we reflect that the people, thus reduced to a state of servitude, have had the same feelings with ourselves; when we reflect that they have had the same propensities to pleasure, and the same aversions from pain; another argument seems immediately to arise in opposition to the former, deduced from our own feelings and that divine sympathy, which nature has implanted in our breasts, for the most useful and generous of purposes. To ascertain the truth therefore, where two such opposite sources of argument occur; where the force of custom pleads strongly on the one hand, and the feelings of humanity on the other; is a matter of much importance, as the dignity of human nature is concerned, and the rights and liberties of mankind will be involved in its discussion.

It will be necessary, before this point can be determined, to consult the History of Slavery, and to lay before the reader, in as concise a manner as possible, a general view of it from its earliest appearance to the present day.

The first, whom we shall mention here to have been reduced to a state of servitude, may be comprehended in that class, which is usually denominated the Mercenary. It consisted of free-born citizens, who, from the various contingencies of fortune, had become so poor, as to have recourse for their support to the service of the rich. Of this kind were those, both among the Egyptians and the Jews, who are recorded in the sacred writings.[004] The Grecian Thetes[005] also were of this description, as well as those among the Romans, from whom the class receives its appellation, the [006]Mercenarii.

We may observe of the above-mentioned, that their situation was in many instances similar to that of our own servants. There was an express contract between the parties; they could, most of them, demand their discharge, if they were ill used by their respective masters; and they were treated therefore with more humanity than those, whom we usually distinguish in our language by the appellation of Slaves.

As this class of servants was composed of men, who had been reduced to such a situation by the contingencies of fortune, and not by their own misconduct; so there was another among the ancients, composed entirely of those, who had suffered the loss of liberty from their own imprudence. To this class may be reduced the Grecian Prodigals, who were detained in the service of their creditors, till the fruits of their labour were equivalent to their debts; the delinquents, who were sentenced to the oar; and the German enthusiasts, as mentioned by Tacitus, who were so immoderately charmed with gaming, as, when every thing else was gone, to have staked their liberty and their very selves. "The loser," says he, "goes into a voluntary servitude, and though younger and stronger than the person with whom he played, patiently suffers himself to be bound and sold. Their perseverance in so bad a custom is stiled honour. The slaves, thus obtained, are immediately exchanged away in commerce, that the winner may get rid of the scandal of his victory."

To enumerate other instances, would be unnecessary; it will be sufficient to observe, that the servants of this class were in a far more wretched situation, than those of the former; their drudgery was more intense; their treatment more severe; and there was no retreat at pleasure, from the frowns and lashes of their despotick masters.

Having premised this, we may now proceed to a general division of slavery, into voluntary and involuntary. The voluntary will comprehend the two classes, which we have already mentioned; for, in the first instance, there was a contract, founded on consent; and, in the second, there was a choice of engaging or not in those practices, the known consequences of which were servitude. The involuntary; on the other hand, will comprehend those, who were forced, without any such condition or choice, into a situation, which as it tended to degrade a part of the human species, and to class it with the brutal, must have been, of all human situations, the most wretched and insupportable. These are they, whom we shall consider solely in the present work. We shall therefore take our leave of the former, as they were mentioned only, that we might state the question with greater accuracy, and, be the better enabled to reduce it to its proper limits.

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[Footnote 004: Genesis, Ch. 47. Leviticus XXV. v. 39, 40.]

[Footnote 005: The Thetes appear very early in the Grecian History.—kai tines auto kouroi epont'Ithakes exairetoi; he eoi autou thentes te Dmoes(?) te; Od. Homer. D. 642. They were afterwards so much in use that, "Murioi depou apedidonto eautous ose douleuein kata sungraphen," till Solon suppressed the custom in Athens.]

[Footnote 006: The mention of these is frequent among the classics; they were called in general mercenarii, from the circumstances of their hire, as "quibus, non male praecipiunt, qui ita jubent uti, ut mercenariis, operam exigendam, justa proebenda. Cicero de off." But they are sometimes mentioned in the law books by the name of liberi, from the circumstances of their birth, to distinguish them from the alieni, or foreigners, as Justinian. D. 7. 8. 4. —Id. 21. 1. 25. &c. &c. &c.]

* * * * *


The first that will be mentioned, of the involuntary, were prisoners of war.[007] "It was a law, established from time immemorial among the nations of antiquity, to oblige those to undergo the severities of servitude, whom victory had thrown into their hands." Conformably with this, we find all the Eastern nations unanimous in the practice. The same custom prevailed among the people of the West; for as the Helots became the slaves of the Spartans, from the right of conquest only, so prisoners of war were reduced to the same situation by the rest of the inhabitants of Greece. By the same principles that actuated these, were the Romans also influenced. Their History will confirm the fact: for how many cities are recorded to have been taken; how many armies to have been vanquished in the field, and the wretched survivors, in both instances, to have been doomed to servitude? It remains only now to observe, in shewing this custom to have been universal, that all those nations which assisted in overturning the Roman Empire, though many and various, adopted the same measures; for we find it a general maxim in their polity, that whoever should fall into their hands as a prisoner of war, should immediately be reduced to the condition of a slave.

It may here, perhaps, be not unworthy of remark, that the involuntary were of greater antiquity than the voluntary slaves. The latter are first mentioned in the time of Pharaoh: they could have arisen only in a state of society; when property, after its division, had become so unequal, as to multiply the wants of individuals; and when government, after its establishment, had given security to the possessor by the punishment of crimes. Whereas the former seem to be dated with more propriety from the days of Nimrod; who gave rise probably to that inseparable idea of victory and servitude, which we find among the nations of antiquity, and which has existed uniformly since, in one country or another, to the present day.[008]

Add to this, that they might have arisen even in a state of nature, and have been coequal with the quarrels of mankind.

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[Footnote 007: "Nomos en pasin anthropois aidios esin, otan polemounton polis alo, ton elonton einai kai ta somata ton en te poleis, kai ta chremata." Xenoph. Kyrou Paid. L. 7. fin.]

[Footnote 008:

"Proud Nimrod first the bloody chace began, A mighty hunter, and his prey was man."


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But it was not victory alone, or any presupposed right, founded in the damages of war, that afforded a pretence for invading the liberties of mankind: the honourable light, in which piracy was considered in the uncivilized ages of the world, contributed not a little to the slavery of the human species. Piracy had a very early beginning. "The Grecians,"[009] says Thucydides, "in their primitive state, as well as the contemporary barbarians, who inhabited the sea coasts and islands, gave themselves wholly to it; it was, in short, their only profession and support." The writings of Homer are sufficient of themselves to establish this account. They shew it to have been a common practice at so early a period as that of the Trojan war; and abound with many lively descriptions of it; which, had they been as groundless as they are beautiful, would have frequently spared the sigh of the reader of sensibility and reflection.

The piracies, which were thus practised in the early ages, may be considered as publick or private. In the former, whole crews embarked for the benefit[010] of their respective tribes. They made descents on the sea coasts, carried off cattle, surprized whole villages, put many of the inhabitants to the sword, and carried others into slavery.

In the latter, individuals only were concerned, and the emolument was their own. These landed from their ships, and, going up into the country, concealed themselves in the woods and thickets; where they waited every opportunity of catching the unfortunate shepherd or husbandman alone. In this situation they sallied out upon him, dragged him on board, conveyed him to a foreign market, and sold him for a slave.

To this kind of piracy Ulysses alludes, in opposition to the former, which he had been just before mentioning, in his question to Eumoeus.

"Did pirates wait, till all thy friends were gone, To catch thee singly with thy flocks alone; Say, did they force thee from thy fleecy care, And from thy fields transport and sell thee here?"[011]

But no picture, perhaps, of this mode of depredation, is equal to that, with which[012] Xenophon presents us in the simple narrative of a dance. He informs us that the Grecian army had concluded a peace with the Paphlagonians, and that they entertained their embassadors in consequence with a banquet, and the exhibition of various feats of activity. "When the Thracians," says he, "had performed the parts allotted them in this entertainment, some Aenianian and Magnetian soldiers rose up, and, accoutred in their proper arms, exhibited that dance, which is called Karpoea. The figure of it is thus. One of them, in the character of an husbandman, is seen to till his land, and is observed, as he drives his plough, to look frequently behind him, as if apprehensive of danger. Another immediately appears in fight, in the character of a robber. The husbandman, having seen him previously advancing, snatches up his arms. A battle ensues before the plough. The whole of this performance is kept in perfect time with the musick of the flute. At length the robber, having got the better of the husbandman, binds him, and drives him off with his team. Sometimes it happens that the husbandman subdues the robber: in this case the scene is only reversed, as the latter is then bound and driven, off by the former."

It is scarcely necessary to observe, that this dance was a representation of the general manners of men, in the more uncivilized ages of the world; shewing that the husbandman and shepherd lived in continual alarm, and that there were people in those ages, who derived their pleasures and fortunes from kidnapping and enslaving their fellow creatures.

We may now take notice of a circumstance in this narration, which will lead us to a review of our first assertion on this point, "that the honourable light, in which piracy was considered in the times of barbarism, contributed not a little to the slavery of the human species." The robber is represented here as frequently defeated in his attempts, and as reduced to that deplorable situation, to which he was endeavouring to bring another. This shews the frequent difficulty and danger of his undertakings: people would not tamely resign their lives or liberties, without a struggle. They were sometimes prepared; were superior often, in many points of view, to these invaders of their liberty; there were an hundred accidental circumstances frequently in their favour. These adventures therefore required all the skill, strength, agility, valour, and every thing, in short, that may be supposed to constitute heroism, to conduct them with success. Upon this idea piratical expeditions first came into repute, and their frequency afterwards, together with the danger and fortitude, that were inseparably connected with them, brought them into such credit among the barbarous nations of antiquity, that of all human professions, piracy was the most honourable.[013]

The notions then, which were thus annexed to piratical expeditions, did not fail to produce those consequences, which we have mentioned before. They afforded an opportunity to the views of avarice and ambition, to conceal themselves under the mask of virtue. They excited a spirit of enterprize, of all others the most irresistible, as it subsisted on the strongest principles of action, emolument and honour. Thus could the vilest of passions be gratified with impunity. People were robbed, stolen, murdered, under the pretended idea that these were reputable adventures: every enormity in short was committed, and dressed up in the habiliments of honour.

But as the notions of men in the less barbarous ages, which followed, became more corrected and refined, the practice of piracy began gradually to disappear. It had hitherto been supported on the grand columns of emolument and honour. When the latter therefore was removed, it received a considerable shock; but, alas! it had still a pillar for its support! avarice, which exists in all states, and which is ready to turn every invention to its own ends, strained hard for its preservation. It had been produced in the ages of barbarism; it had been pointed out in those ages as lucrative, and under this notion it was continued. People were still stolen; many were intercepted (some, in their pursuits of pleasure, others, in the discharge of their several occupations) by their own countrymen; who previously laid in wait for them, and sold them afterwards for slaves; while others seized by merchants, who traded on the different coasts, were torn from their friends and connections, and carried into slavery. The merchants of Thessaly, if we can credit Aristophanes[014] who never spared the vices of the times, were particularly infamous for the latter kind of depredation; the Athenians were notorious for the former; for they had practised these robberies to such an alarming degree of danger to individuals, that it was found necessary to enact a law[015], which punished kidnappers with death.—But this is sufficient for our present purpose; it will enable us to assert, that there were two classes of involuntary slaves among the ancients, "of those who were taken publickly in a state of war, and of those who were privately stolen in a state of innocence and peace." We may now add, that the children and descendents of these composed a third.

* * * * *


[Footnote 009: Thucydides. L. 1. sub initio.]

[Footnote 010: Idem.—"the strongest," says he, "engaging in these adventures, Kerdous tou spheterou auton eneka kai tois asthenesi trophes."]

[Footnote 011: Homer. Odyss. L. 15. 385.]

[Footnote 012: Xenoph. Kyrou Anab. L. 6. sub initio.]

[Footnote 013: ouk echontos po Aischynen toutou tou ergou pherontos de ti kai Doxes mallon. Thucydides, L. 1. sub initio. kai euklees touto oi Kilikes enomizon. Sextus Empiricus. ouk adoxon all'endoxon touto. Schol. &c. &c.]

[Footnote 014: Aristoph. Plut. Act. 2. Scene 5.]

[Footnote 015: Zenoph. Apomnemon, L. 1.]

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It will be proper to say something here concerning the situation of the unfortunate men, who were thus doomed to a life of servitude. To enumerate their various employments, and to describe the miseries which they endured in consequence, either from the severity, or the long and constant application of their labour, would exceed the bounds we have proposed to the present work. We shall confine ourselves to their personal treatment, as depending on the power of their masters, and the protection of the law. Their treatment, if considered in this light, will equally excite our pity and abhorrence. They were beaten, starved, tortured, murdered at discretion: they were dead in a civil sense; they had neither name nor tribe; were incapable of a judicial process; were in short without appeal. Poor unfortunate men! to be deprived of all possible protection! to suffer the bitterest of injuries without the possibility of redress! to be condemned unheard! to be murdered with impunity! to be considered as dead in that state, the very members of which they were supporting by their labours!

Yet such was their general situation: there were two places however, where their condition, if considered in this point of view, was more tolerable. The AEgyptian slave, though perhaps of all others the greatest drudge, yet if he had time to reach the temple[016] of Hercules, found a certain retreat from the persecution of his master; and he received additional comfort from the reflection, that his life, whether he could reach it or not, could not be taken with impunity. Wise and salutary law![017] how often must it have curbed the insolence of power, and stopped those passions in their progress, which had otherwise been destructive to the slave!

But though the persons of slaves were thus greatly secured in AEgypt, yet there was no place so favourable to them as Athens. They were allowed a greater liberty of speech;[018] they had their convivial meetings, their amours, their hours of relaxation, pleasantry, and mirth; they were treated, in short, with so much humanity in general, as to occasion that observation of Demosthenes, in his second Philippick, "that the condition of a slave, at Athens, was preferable to that of a free citizen, in many other countries." But if any exception happened (which was sometimes the case) from the general treatment described; if persecution took the place of lenity, and made the fangs of servitude more pointed than before,[019] they had then their temple, like the AEgyptian, for refuge; where the legislature was so attentive, as to examine their complaints, and to order them, if they were founded in justice, to be sold to another master. Nor was this all: they had a privilege infinitely greater than the whole of these. They were allowed an opportunity of working for themselves, and if their diligence had procured them a sum equivalent with their ransom, they could immediately, on paying it down,[020] demand their freedom for ever. This law was, of all others, the most important; as the prospect of liberty, which it afforded, must have been a continual source of the most pleasing reflections, and have greatly sweetened the draught, even of the most bitter slavery.

Thus then, to the eternal honour of AEgypt and Athens, they were the only places that we can find, where slaves were considered with any humanity at all. The rest of the world seemed to vie with each other, in the debasement and oppression of these unfortunate people. They used them with as much severity as they chose; they measured their treatment only by their own passion and caprice; and, by leaving them on every occasion, without the possibility of an appeal, they rendered their situation the most melancholy and intolerable, that can possibly be conceived.

* * * * *


[Footnote 016: Herodotus. L. 2. 113.]

[Footnote 017: "Apud AEgyptios, si quis servum sponte occiderat, eum morte damnari aeque ac si liberum occidisset, jubebant leges &c." Diodorus Sic. L. 1.]

[Footnote 018:

"Atq id ne vos miremini, Homines servulos Potare, amare, atq ad coenam condicere. Licet hoc Athenis. Plautus. Sticho." ]

[Footnote 019: "Be me kratison esin eis to Theseion Dramein, ekei d'eos an eurombou prasin menein" Aristoph. Horae.

Kaka toiade paskousin oude prasin Aitousin. Eupolis. poleis.]

[Footnote 020: To this privilege Plautus alludes in his Casina, where he introduces a slave, speaking in the following manner.

"Quid tu me vero libertate territas? Quod si tu nolis, siliusque etiam tuus Vobis invitis, atq amborum ingratiis, Una libella liber possum fieri." ]

* * * * *


As we have mentioned the barbarous and inhuman treatment that generally fell to the lot of slaves, it may not be amiss to inquire into the various circumstances by which it was produced.

The first circumstance, from whence it originated, was the commerce: for if men could be considered as possessions; if, like cattle, they could be bought and sold, it will not be difficult to suppose, that they could be held in the same consideration, or treated in the same manner. The commerce therefore, which was begun in the primitive ages of the world, by classing them with the brutal species, and by habituating the mind to consider the terms of brute and slave as synonimous, soon caused them to be viewed in a low and despicable light, and as greatly inferiour to the human species. Hence proceeded that treatment, which might not unreasonably be supposed to arise from so low an estimation. They were tamed, like beasts, by the stings of hunger and the lash, and their education was directed to the same end, to make them commodious instruments of labour for their possessors.

This treatment, which thus proceeded in the ages of barbarism, from the low estimation, in which slaves were unfortunately held from the circumstances of the commerce, did not fail of producing, in the same instant, its own effect. It depressed their minds; it numbed their faculties; and, by preventing those sparks of genius from blazing forth, which had otherwise been conspicuous; it gave them the appearance of being endued with inferiour capacities than the rest of mankind. This effect of the treatment had made so considerable a progress, as to have been a matter of observation in the days of Homer.

For half his senses Jove conveys away, Whom once he dooms to see the servile day.[021]

Thus then did the commerce, by classing them originally with brutes, and the consequent treatment, by cramping their abilities, and hindering them from becoming conspicuous, give to these unfortunate people, at a very early period, the most unfavourable appearance. The rising generations, who received both the commerce and treatment from their ancestors, and who had always been accustomed to behold their effects, did not consider these effects as incidental: they judged only from what they saw; they believed the appearances to be real; and hence arose the combined principle, that slaves were an inferiour order of men, and perfectly void of understanding. Upon this principle it was, that the former treatment began to be fully confirmed and established; and as this principle was handed down and disseminated, so it became, in succeeding ages, an excuse for any severity, that despotism might suggest.

We may observe here, that as all nations had this excuse in common, as arising from the circumstances above-mentioned, so the Greeks first, and the Romans afterwards, had an additional excuse, as arising from their own vanity.

The former having conquered Troy, and having united themselves under one common name and interest, began, from that period, to distinguish the rest of the world by the title of barbarians; inferring by such an appellation, "that they were men who were only noble in their own country; that they had no right, from their nature, to authority or command; that, on the contrary, so low were their capacities, they were destined by nature to obey, and to live in a state of perpetual drudgery and subjugation."[022] Conformable with this opinion was the treatment, which was accordingly prescribed to a barbarian. The philosopher Aristotle himself, in the advice which he gave to his pupil Alexander, before he went upon his Asiatick expedition, intreated him to "use the Greeks, as it became a general, but the barbarians, as it became a master; consider, says he, the former as friends and domesticks; but the latter, as brutes and plants;"[023] inferring that the Greeks, from the superiority of their capacities, had a natural right to dominion, and that the rest of the world, from the inferiority of their own, were to be considered and treated as the irrational part of the creation.

Now, if we consider that this was the treatment, which they judged to be absolutely proper for people of this description, and that their slaves were uniformly those, whom they termed barbarians; being generally such, as were either kidnapped from Barbary, or purchased from the barbarian conquerors in their wars with one another; we shall immediately see, with what an additional excuse their own vanity had furnished them for the sallies of caprice and passion.

To refute these cruel sentiments of the ancients, and to shew that their slaves were by no means an inferiour order of beings than themselves, may perhaps be considered as an unnecessary task; particularly, as having shewn, that the causes of this inferiour appearance were incidental, arising, on the one hand, from the combined effects of the treatment and commerce, and, on the other, from vanity and pride, we seem to have refuted them already. But we trust that some few observations, in vindication of these unfortunate people, will neither be unacceptable nor improper.

How then shall we begin the refutation? Shall we say with Seneca, who saw many of the slaves in question, "What is a knight, or a libertine, or a slave? Are they not names, assumed either from injury or ambition?" Or, shall we say with him on another occasion, "Let us consider that he, whom we call our slave, is born in the same manner as ourselves; that he enjoys the same sky, with all its heavenly luminaries; that he breathes, that he lives, in the same manner as ourselves, and, in the same manner, that he expires." These considerations, we confess, would furnish us with a plentiful source of arguments in the case before us; but we decline their assistance. How then shall we begin? Shall we enumerate the many instances of fidelity, patience, or valour, that are recorded of the servile race? Shall we enumerate the many important services, that they rendered both to the individuals and the community, under whom they lived? Here would be a second source, from whence we could collect sufficient materials to shew, that there was no inferiority in their nature. But we decline to use them. We shall content ourselves with some few instances, that relate to the genius only: we shall mention the names of those of a servile condition, whose writings, having escaped the wreck of time, and having been handed down even to the present age, are now to be seen, as so many living monuments, that neither the Grecian, nor Roman genius, was superiour to their own.

The first, whom we shall mention here, is the famous AEsop. He was a Phrygian by birth, and lived in the time of Croesus, king of Lydia, to whom he dedicated his fables. The writings of this great man, in whatever light we consider them, will be equally entitled to our admiration. But we are well aware, that the very mention of him as a writer of fables, may depreciate him in the eyes of some. To such we shall propose a question, "Whether this species of writing has not been more beneficial to mankind; or whether it has not produced more important events, than any other?"

With respect to the first consideration, it is evident that these fables, as consisting of plain and simple transactions, are particularly easy to be understood; as conveyed in images, they please and seduce the mind; and, as containing a moral, easily deducible on the side of virtue; that they afford, at the same time, the most weighty precepts of philosophy. Here then are the two grand points of composition, "a manner of expression to be apprehended by the lowest capacities, and, (what is considered as a victory in the art) an happy conjunction of utility and pleasure."[024] Hence Quintilian recommends them, as singularly useful, and as admirably adapted, to the puerile age; as a just gradation between the language of the nurse and the preceptor, and as furnishing maxims of prudence and virtue, at a time when the speculative principles of philosophy are too difficult to be understood. Hence also having been introduced by most civilized nations into their system of education, they have produced that general benefit, to which we at first alluded. Nor have they been of less consequence in maturity; but particularly to those of inferiour capacities, or little erudition, whom they have frequently served as a guide to conduct them in life, and as a medium, through which an explanation might be made, on many and important occasions.

With respect to the latter consideration, which is easily deducible from hence, we shall only appeal to the wonderful effect, which the fable, pronounced by Demosthenes against Philip of Macedon, produced among his hearers; or to the fable, which was spoken by Menenius Agrippa to the Roman populace; by which an illiterate multitude were brought back to their duty as citizens, when no other species of oratory could prevail.

To these truly ingenious, and philosophical works of AEsop, we shall add those of his imitator Phoedrus, which in purity and elegance of style, are inferiour to none. We shall add also the Lyrick Poetry of Alcman, which is no servile composition; the sublime Morals of Epictetus, and the incomparable comedies of Terence.

Thus then does it appear, that the excuse which was uniformly started in defence of the treatment of slaves, had no foundation whatever either in truth or justice. The instances that we have mentioned above, are sufficient to shew, that there was no inferiority, either in their nature, or their understandings: and at the same time that they refute the principles of the ancients, they afford a valuable lesson to those, who have been accustomed to form too precipitate a judgment on the abilities of men: for, alas! how often has secret anguish depressed the spirits of those, whom they have frequently censured, from their gloomy and dejected appearance! and how often, on the other hand, has their judgment resulted from their own vanity and pride!

* * * * *


[Footnote 021: Homer. Odys. P. 322. In the latest edition of Homer, the word, which we have translated senses, is Aretae, or virtue, but the old and proper reading is Noos, as appears from Plato de Legibus, ch. 6, where he quotes it on a similar occasion.]

[Footnote 022: Aristotle. Polit. Ch. 2. et inseq.]

[Footnote 023: Ellesin hegemonikos, tois de Barbarois despotikos krasthar kai ton men os philon kai oikeion epimeleisthai, tois de os zoois he phytois prospheresthai. Plutarch. de Fortun. Alexand. Orat. 1.]

[Footnote 024: Omne tulit punctum, qui miscuit utile dulci. Horace.]

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We proceed now to the consideration of the commerce: in consequence of which, people, endued with the same feelings and faculties as ourselves, were made subject to the laws and limitations of possession.

This commerce of the human species was of a very early date. It was founded on the idea that men were property; and, as this idea was coeval with the first order of involuntary slaves, it must have arisen, (if the date, which we previously affixed to that order, be right) in the first practices of barter. The Story of Joseph, as recorded in the sacred writings, whom his brothers sold from an envious suspicion of his future greatness, is an ample testimony of the truth of this conjecture. It shews that there were men, even at that early period, who travelled up and down as merchants, collecting not only balm, myrrh, spicery, and other wares, but the human species also, for the purposes of traffick. The instant determination of the brothers, on the first sight of the merchants, to sell him, and the immediate acquiescence of these, who purchased him for a foreign market, prove that this commerce had been then established, not only in that part of the country, where this transaction happened, but in that also, whither the merchants were then travelling with their camels, namely, AEgypt: and they shew farther, that, as all customs require time for their establishment, so it must have existed in the ages, previous to that of Pharaoh; that is, in those ages, in which we fixed the first date of involuntary servitude. This commerce then, as appears by the present instance, existed in the earliest practices of barter, and had descended to the AEgyptians, through as long a period of time, as was sufficient to have made it, in the times alluded to, an established custom. Thus was AEgypt, in those days, the place of the greatest resort; the grand emporium of trade, to which people were driving their merchandize, as to a centre; and thus did it afford, among other opportunities of traffick, the first market that is recorded, for the sale of the human species.

This market, which was thus supplied by the constant concourse of merchants, who resorted to it from various parts, could not fail, by these means, to have been considerable. It received, afterwards, an additional supply from those piracies, which we mentioned to have existed in the uncivilized ages of the world, and which, in fact, it greatly promoted and encouraged; and it became, from these united circumstances, so famous, as to have been known, within a few centuries from the time of Pharaoh, both to the Grecian colonies in Asia, and the Grecian islands. Homer mentions Cyprus and AEgypt as the common markets for slaves, about the times of the Trojan war. Thus Antinous, offended with Ulysses, threatens to send him to one of these places, if he does not instantly depart from his table.[025] The same poet also, in his hymn to Bacchus[026], mentions them again, but in a more unequivocal manner, as the common markets for slaves. He takes occasion, in that hymn, to describe the pirates method of scouring the coast, from the circumstance of their having kidnapped Bacchus, as a noble youth, for whom they expected an immense ransom. The captain of the vessel, having dragged him on board, is represented as addressing himself thus, to the steersman:

"Haul in the tackle, hoist aloft the sail, Then take your helm, and watch the doubtful gale! To mind the captive prey, be our's the care, While you to AEgypt or to Cyprus steer; There shall he go, unless his friends he'll tell, Whose ransom-gifts will pay us full as well."

It may not perhaps be considered as a digression, to mention in few words, by itself, the wonderful concordance of the writings of Moses and Homer with the case before us: not that the former, from their divine authority, want additional support, but because it cannot be unpleasant to see them confirmed by a person, who, being one of the earliest writers, and living in a very remote age, was the first that could afford us any additional proof of the circumstances above-mentioned. AEgypt is represented, in the first book of the sacred writings, as a market for slaves, and, in the [027]second, as famous for the severity of its servitude. [028]The same line, which we have already cited from Homer, conveys to us the same ideas. It points it out as a market for the human species, and by the epithet of "bitter AEgypt," ([029]which epithet is peculiarly annexed to it on this occasion) alludes in the strongest manner to that severity and rigour, of which the sacred historian transmitted us the first account.

But, to return. Though AEgypt was the first market recorded for this species of traffick; and though AEgypt, and Cyprus afterwards, were particularly distinguished for it, in the times of the Trojan war; yet they were not the only places, even at that period, where men were bought and sold. The Odyssey of Homer shews that it was then practised in many of the islands of the AEgean sea; and the Iliad, that it had taken place among those Grecians on the continent of Europe, who had embarked from thence on the Trojan expedition. This appears particularly at the end of the seventh book. A fleet is described there, as having just arrived from Lemnos, with a supply of wine for the Grecian camp. The merchants are described also, as immediately exposing it to sale, and as receiving in exchange, among other articles of barter, "a number of slaves."

It will now be sufficient to observe, that, as other states arose, and as circumstances contributed to make them known, this custom is discovered to have existed among them; that it travelled over all Asia; that it spread through the Grecian and Roman world; was in use among the barbarous nations, which overturned the Roman empire; and was practised therefore, at the same period, throughout all Europe.

* * * * *


[Footnote 025: me tacha pikren Aigypton kai Kypron idnai. Hom. Odyss. L. 17. 448.]

[Footnote 026: L. 26.]

[Footnote 027: Exodus. Ch. 1.]

[Footnote 028: Vide note 1st. (Here shown as footnote 025).]

[Footnote 029: This strikes us the more forcibly, as it is stiled eurreiten and perikallea, "beautiful and well watered," in all other passages where it is mentioned, but this.]

* * * * *


This slavery and commerce, which had continued for so long a time, and which was thus practised in Europe at so late a period as that, which succeeded the grand revolutions in the western world, began, as the northern nations were settled in their conquests, to decline, and, on their full establishment, were abolished. A difference of opinion has arisen respecting the cause of their abolition; some having asserted, that they were the necessary consequences of the feudal system; while others, superiour both in number and in argument, have maintained that they were the natural effects of Christianity. The mode of argument, which the former adopt on this occasion, is as follows. "The multitude of little states, which sprang up from one great one at this AEra, occasioned infinite bickerings and matter for contention. There was not a state or seignory, which did not want all the hands they could muster, either to defend their own right, or to dispute that of their neighbours. Thus every man was taken into the service: whom they armed they must trust: and there could be no trust but in free men. Thus the barrier between the two natures was thrown down, and slavery was no more heard of, in the west."

That this was not the necessary consequence of such a situation, is apparent. The political state of Greece, in its early history, was the same as that of Europe, when divided, by the feudal system, into an infinite number of small and independent kingdoms. There was the same matter therefore for contention, and the same call for all the hands that could be mustered: the Grecians, in short, in heroick, were in the same situation in these respects as the feudal barons in the Gothick times. Had this therefore been a necessary effect, there had been a cessation of servitude in Greece, in those ages, in which we have already shewn that it existed.

But with respect to Christianity, many and great are the arguments, that it occasioned so desirable an event. It taught, "that all men were originally equal; that the Deity was no respecter of persons, and that, as all men were to give an account of their actions hereafter, it was necessary that they should be free." These doctrines could not fail of having their proper influence on those, who first embraced Christianity, from a conviction of its truth; and on those of their descendents afterwards, who, by engaging in the crusades, and hazarding their lives and fortunes there, shewed, at least, an attachment to that religion. We find them accordingly actuated by these principles: we have a positive proof, that the feudal system had no share in the honour of suppressing slavery, but that Christianity was the only cause; for the greatest part of the charters which were granted for the freedom of slaves in those times (many of which are still extant) were granted, "pro amore Dei, pro mercede animae." They were founded, in short, on religious considerations, "that they might procure the favour of the Deity, which they conceived themselves to have forfeited, by the subjugation of those, whom they found to be the objects of the divine benevolence and attention equally with themselves."

These considerations, which had thus their first origin in Christianity, began to produce their effects, as the different nations were converted; and procured that general liberty at last, which, at the close of the twelfth century, was conspicuous in the west of Europe. What a glorious and important change! Those, who would have had otherwise no hopes, but that their miseries would be terminated by death, were then freed from their servile condition; those, who, by the laws of war, would have had otherwise an immediate prospect of servitude from the hands of their imperious conquerors, were then exchanged; a custom, which has happily descended to the present day. Thus, "a numerous class of men, who formerly had no political existence, and were employed merely as instruments of labour, became useful citizens, and contributed towards augmenting the force or riches of the society, which adopted them as members;" and thus did the greater part of the Europeans, by their conduct on this occasion, assert not only liberty for themselves, but for their fellow-creatures also.

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But if men therefore, at a time when under the influence of religion they exercised their serious thoughts, abolished slavery, how impious must they appear, who revived it; and what arguments will not present themselves against their conduct![030] The Portuguese, within two centuries after its suppression in Europe, in imitation of those piracies, which we have shewn to have existed in the uncivilized ages of the world, made their descents on Africa, and committing depredations on the coast,[031] first carried the wretched inhabitants into slavery.

This practice, however trifling and partial it might appear at first, soon became serious and general. A melancholy instance of the depravity of human nature; as it shews, that neither the laws nor religion of any country, however excellent the forms of each, are sufficient to bind the consciences of some; but that there are always men, of every age, country, and persuasion, who are ready to sacrifice their dearest principles at the shrine of gain. Our own ancestors, together with the Spaniards, French, and most of the maritime powers of Europe, soon followed the piratical example; and thus did the Europeans, to their eternal infamy, renew a custom, which their own ancestors had so lately exploded, from a conscientiousness of its impiety.

The unfortunate Africans, terrified at these repeated depredations, fled in confusion from the coast, and sought, in the interiour parts of the country, a retreat from the persecution of their invaders. But, alas, they were miserably disappointed! There are few retreats, that can escape the penetrating eye of avarice. The Europeans still pursued them; they entered their rivers; sailed up into the heart of the country; surprized the unfortunate Africans again; and carried them into slavery.

But this conduct, though successful at first, defeated afterwards its own ends. It created a more general alarm, and pointed out, at the same instant, the best method of security from future depredations. The banks of the rivers were accordingly deserted, as the coasts had been before; and thus were the Christian invaders left without a prospect of their prey.

In this situation however, expedients were not wanting. They now formed to themselves the resolution of settling in the country; of securing themselves by fortified ports; of changing their system of force into that of pretended liberality; and of opening, by every species of bribery and corruption, a communication with the natives. These plans were put into immediate execution. The Europeans erected their forts[032]; landed their merchandize; and endeavoured, by a peaceable deportment, by presents, and by every appearance of munificence, to seduce the attachment and confidence of the Africans. These schemes had the desired effect. The gaudy trappings of European art, not only caught their attention, but excited their curiosity: they dazzled the eyes and bewitched the senses, not only of those, to whom they were given, but of those, to whom they were shewn. Thus followed a speedy intercourse with each other, and a confidence, highly favourable to the views of avarice or ambition.

It was now time for the Europeans to embrace the opportunity, which this intercourse had thus afforded them, of carrying their schemes into execution, and of fixing them on such a permanent foundation, as should secure them future success. They had already discovered, in the different interviews obtained, the chiefs of the African tribes. They paid their court therefore to these, and so compleatly intoxicated their senses with the luxuries, which they brought from home, as to be able to seduce them to their designs. A treaty of peace and commerce was immediately concluded: it was agreed, that the kings, on their part, should, from this period, sentence prisoners of war and convicts to European servitude; and that the Europeans should supply them, in return, with the luxuries of the north. This agreement immediately took place; and thus begun that commerce, which makes so considerable a figure at the present day.

But happy had the Africans been, if those only, who had been justly convicted of crimes, or taken in a just war, had been sentenced to the severities of servitude! How many of those miseries, which afterwards attended them, had been never known; and how would their history have saved those sighs and emotions of pity, which must now ever accompany its perusal. The Europeans, on the establishment of their western colonies, required a greater number of slaves than a strict adherence to the treaty could produce. The princes therefore had only the choice of relinquishing the commerce, or of consenting to become unjust. They had long experienced the emoluments of the trade; they had acquired a taste for the luxuries it afforded; and they now beheld an opportunity of gratifying it, but in a more extentive manner. Avarice therefore, which was too powerful for justice on this occasion, immediately turned the scale: not only those, who were fairly convicted of offences, were now sentenced to servitude, but even those who were suspected. New crimes were invented, that new punishments might succeed. Thus was every appearance soon construed into reality; every shadow into a substance; and often virtue into a crime.

Such also was the case with respect to prisoners of war. Not only those were now delivered into slavery, who were taken in a state of publick enmity and injustice, but those also, who, conscious of no injury whatever, were taken in the arbitrary skirmishes of these venal sovereigns. War was now made, not as formerly, from the motives of retaliation and defence, but for the sake of obtaining prisoners alone, and the advantages resulting from their sale. If a ship from Europe came but into sight, it was now considered as a sufficient motive for a war, and as a signal only for an instantaneous commencement of hostilities.

But if the African kings could be capable of such injustice, what vices are there, that their consciences would restrain, or what enormities, that we might not expect to be committed? When men once consent to be unjust, they lose, at the same instant with their virtue, a considerable portion of that sense of shame, which, till then, had been found a successful protector against the sallies of vice. From that awful period, almost every expectation is forlorn: the heart is left unguarded: its great protector is no more: the vices therefore, which so long encompassed it in vain, obtain an easy victory: in crouds they pour into the defenceless avenues, and take possession of the soul: there is nothing now too vile for them to meditate, too impious to perform. Such was the situation of the despotick sovereigns of Africa. They had once ventured to pass the bounds of virtue, and they soon proceeded to enormity. This was particularly conspicuous in that general conduct, which they uniformly observed, after any unsuccessful conflict. Influenced only by the venal motives of European traffick, they first made war upon the neighbouring tribes, contrary to every principle of justice; and if, by the flight of the enemy, or by other contingencies, they were disappointed of their prey, they made no hesitation of immediately turning their arms against their own subjects. The first villages they came to, were always marked on this occasion, as the first objects of their avarice. They were immediately surrounded, were afterwards set on fire, and the wretched inhabitants seized, as they were escaping from the flames. These, consisting of whole families, fathers, brothers, husbands, wives, and children, were instantly driven in chains to the merchants, and consigned to slavery.

To these calamities, which thus arose from the tyranny of the kings, we may now subjoin those, which arose from the avarice of private persons. Many were kidnapped by their own countrymen, who, encouraged by the merchants of Europe, previously lay in wait for them, and sold them afterwards for slaves; while the seamen of the different ships, by every possible artifice, enticed others on board, and transported them to the regions of servitude.

As these practices are in full force at the present day, it appears that there are four orders of involuntary slaves on the African continent; of [033]convicts; of prisoners of war; of those, who are publickly seized by virtue of the authority of their prince; and of those, who are privately kidnapped by individuals.

It remains only to observe on this head, that in the sale and purchase of these the African commerce or Slave Trade consists; that they are delivered to the merchants of Europe in exchange for their various commodities; that these transport them to their colonies in the west, where their slavery takes place; and that a fifth order arises there, composed of all such as are born to the native Africans, after their transportation and slavery have commenced.

Having thus explained as much of the history of modern servitude, as is sufficient for the prosecution of our design, we should have closed our account here, but that a work, just published, has furnished us with a singular anecdote of the colonists of a neighbouring nation, which we cannot but relate. The learned [034]author, having described the method which the Dutch colonists at the Cape make use of to take the Hottentots and enslave them, takes occasion, in many subsequent parts of the work, to mention the dreadful effects of the practice of slavery; which, as he justly remarks, "leads to all manner of misdemeanours and wickedness. Pregnant women," says he, "and children in their tenderest years, were not at this time, neither indeed are they ever, exempt from the effects of the hatred and spirit of vengeance constantly harboured by the colonists, with respect to the [035]Boshies-man nation; excepting such indeed as are marked out to be carried away into bondage.

"Does a colonist at any time get sight of a Boshies-man, he takes fire immediately, and spirits up his horse and dogs, in order to hunt him with more ardour and fury than he would a wolf, or any other wild beast? On an open plain, a few colonists on horseback are always sure to get the better of the greatest number of Boshies-men that can be brought together; as the former always keep at the distance of about an hundred, or an hundred and fifty paces (just as they find it convenient) and charging their heavy fire-arms with a very large kind of shot, jump off their horses, and rest their pieces in their usual manner on their ramrods, in order that they may shoot with the greater certainty; so that the balls discharged by them will sometimes, as I have been assured, go through the bodies of six, seven, or eight of the enemy at a time, especially as these latter know no better than to keep close together in a body."—

"And not only is the capture of the Hottentots considered by them merely as a party of pleasure, but in cold blood they destroy the bands which nature has knit between their husbands, and their wives and children, &c."

With what horrour do these passages seem to strike us! What indignation do they seem to raise in our breasts, when we reflect, that a part of the human species are considered as game, and that parties of pleasure are made for their destruction! The lion does not imbrue his claws in blood, unless called upon by hunger, or provoked by interruption; whereas the merciless Dutch, more savage than the brutes themselves, not only murder their fellow-creatures without any provocation or necessity, but even make a diversion of their sufferings, and enjoy their pain.

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[Footnote 030: The following short history of the African servitude, is taken from Astley's Collection of Voyages, and from the united testimonies of Smyth, Adanson, Bosman, Moore, and others, who were agents to the different factories established there; who resided many years in the country; and published their respective histories at their return. These writers, if they are partial at all, may be considered as favourable rather to their own countrymen, than the unfortunate Africans.]

[Footnote 031: We would not wish to be understood, that slavery was unknown in Africa before the piratical expeditions of the Portuguese, as it appears from the Nubian's Geography, that both the slavery and commerce had been established among the natives with one another. We mean only to assert, that the Portuguese were the first of the Europeans, who made their piratical expeditions, and shewed the way to that slavery, which now makes so disgraceful a figure in the western colonies of the Europeans. In the term "Europeans," wherever it shall occur in the remaining part of this first dissertation, we include the Portuguese, and those nations only, who followed their example.]

[Footnote 032: The Portuguese erected their first fort at D'Elmina, in the year 1481, about forty years after Alonzo Gonzales had pointed the Southern Africans out to his countrymen as articles of commerce.]

[Footnote 033: In the ancient servitude, we reckoned convicts among the voluntary slaves, because they had it in their power, by a virtuous conduct, to have avoided so melancholy a situation; in the African, we include them in the involuntary, because, as virtues are frequently construed into crimes, from the venal motives of the traffick, no person whatever possesses such a power or choice.]

[Footnote 034: Andrew Sparrman, M.D. professor of Physick at Stockholm, fellow of the Royal Academy of Sciences in Sweden, and inspector of its cabinet of natural history, whose voyage was translated into English, and published in 1785.]

[Footnote 035: Boshies-man, or wild Hottentot.]

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End of the First Part.

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As we explained the History of Slavery in the first part of this Essay, as far as it was necessary for our purpose, we shall now take the question into consideration, which we proposed at first as the subject of our inquiry, viz. how far the commerce and slavery of the human species, as revived by some of the nations of Europe in the persons of the unfortunate Africans, and as revived, in a great measure, on the principles of antiquity, are consistent with the laws of nature, or the common notions of equity, as established among men.

This question resolves itself into two separate parts for discussion, into the African commerce (as explained in the history of slavery) and the subsequent slavery in the colonies, as founded on the equity of the commerce. The former, of course, will be first examined. For this purpose we shall inquire into the rise, nature, and design of government. Such an inquiry will be particularly useful in the present place; it will afford us that general knowledge of subordination and liberty, which is necessary in the case before us, and will be found, as it were, a source, to which we may frequently refer for many and valuable arguments.

It appears that mankind were originally free, and that they possessed an equal right to the soil and produce of the earth. For proof of this, we need only appeal to the divine writings; to the golden age of the poets, which, like other fables of the times, had its origin in truth; and to the institution of the Saturnalia, and of other similar festivals; all of which are so many monuments of this original equality of men. Hence then there was no rank, no distinction, no superiour. Every man wandered where he chose, changing his residence, as a spot attracted his fancy, or suited his convenience, uncontrouled by his neighbour, unconnected with any but his family. Hence also (as every thing was common) he collected what he chose without injury, and enjoyed without injury what he had collected. Such was the first situation of mankind; [036]a state of dissociation and independence.

In this dissociated state it is impossible that men could have long continued. The dangers to which they must have frequently been exposed, by the attacks of fierce and rapacious beasts, by the proedatory attempts of their own species, and by the disputes of contiguous and independent families; these, together with their inability to defend, themselves, on many such occasions, must have incited them to unite. Hence then was society formed on the grand principles of preservation and defence: and as these principles began to operate, in the different parts of the earth, where the different families had roamed, a great number of these societies began to be formed and established; which, taking to themselves particular names from particular occurrences, began to be perfectly distinct from one another.

As the individuals, of whom these societies were composed, had associated only for their defence, so they experienced, at first, no change in their condition. They were still independent and free; they were still without discipline or laws; they had every thing still in common; they pursued the same, manner of life; wandering only, in herds, as the earth gave them or refused them sustenance, and doing, as a publick body, what they had been accustomed to do as individuals before. This was the exact situation of the Getae and Scythians[037], of the Lybians and Goetulians[038], of the Italian Aborigines[039], and of the Huns and Alans[040]. They had left their original state of dissociation, and had stepped into that, which has been just described. Thus was the second situation of men a state of independent society.

Having thus joined themselves together, and having formed themselves into several large and distinct bodies, they could not fail of submitting soon to a more considerable change. Their numbers must have rapidly increased, and their societies, in process of time, have become so populous, as frequently to have experienced the want of subsistence, and many of the commotions and tumults of intestine strife. For these inconveniences however there were remedies to be found. Agriculture would furnish them with that subsistence and support, which the earth, from the rapid increase of its inhabitants, had become unable spontaneously to produce. An assignation of property would not only enforce an application, but excite an emulation, to labour; and government would at once afford a security to the acquisitions of the industrious, and heal the intestine disorders of the community, by the introduction of laws.

Such then were the remedies, that were gradually applied. The societies, which had hitherto seen their members, undistinguished either by authority or rank, admitted now of magistratical pre-eminence. They were divided into tribes; to every tribe was allotted a particular district for its support, and to every individual his particular spot. The Germans[041], who consisted of many and various nations, were exactly in this situation. They had advanced a step beyond the Scythians, Goetulians, and those, whom we described before; and thus was the third situation of mankind a state of subordinate society.

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[Footnote 036: This conclusion concerning the dissociated state of mankind, is confirmed by all the early writers, with whose descriptions of primitive times no other conclusion is reconcileable.]

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