“Of an Address on Slavery, delivered by W. A. Smith, a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church South, in the Court House of Leesburg. BY S. M. JANNEY.
Essay No. 1.
“As the public discussion of slavery, in its moral and social bearings, has been opened in the county of Loudoun by one of its ablest advocates, I trust that reflecting minds in the community are willing to hear the other side of the question plainly stated, and fairly argued. To reply, in full, to a speech of five or six hours’ length, of which few notes have been taken, cannot be expected; but it is my purpose to touch upon the most prominent points of the argument, leaving out of view that portion of it which related to the schism in the Methodist church. With this schism I do not wish to meddle further than to express my regret that an event so well calculated to weaken the bonds of our Federal Union should have occurred.
“Far from wishing, like the Garrison party of the Abolitionists, and the Calhoun party of politicians, that this Union should be dissolved, I fervently desire its continuance; for I consider it the sheet anchor by means of which the ship of state will be able to ride out the severest storms. The first two positions laid down by the speaker were nearly in these words: 1. Slavery, in the abstract, is, of itself, right. 2. That system of government known as domestic slavery in the Untied States, is right, as it now exists. In stating these propositions he remarked, that much force and emphasis, that those who admit slaveholding to be a moral evil, and yet continue to practice it, are acting most inconsistently; for no circumstances whatever can justify a man in acting on a false principle, or in doing what he believes to be wrong.
In order to sustain his first position, he undertook to define slavery in the abstract, and remarked that he had often asked for a definition from the opponents of the system, but had never been able to obtain it. He then proceeded to give his definition, which was, in substance, as follows: “Slavery is the exercise of authority or control on the one part, and of submission on the other.” Any one who will examine this definition cannot fail to perceive that it is loose and defective, for its covers not only the ground of slavery, but every species of government, whether voluntary or involuntary, in earth and in heaven.
It is, however, well calculated to mislead and deceive those who are not accustomed to metaphysical distinctions; for, if we unwarily admit the premises, we may be led on by an ingenious chain of argument, until we arrive at the most astounding conclusion. In this case, the speaker, being a man of strong mind, and possessed of that peculiar boldness which belongs to the Calhoun school, did not hesitate to carry out his premises to their ultimate results, and to state them in a form alike offensive to common sense and reverence for the Deity. He told us, in plain English, that this principle for which he contends makes submission to any form of government a condition of slavery; that the citizen of this free Republic are slaves to their rulers; that the wife is the slave of her husband; children are the slaves of their parents; nay, even the angels in heaven are in this condition; and man, if not subjected to his fellow-man, must, at least, be the slave of the Deity. It is enough to state these conclusions, in their plain, naked deformity, to show the reckless temerity of that party zeal which, for the sake of sustaining a long-cherished delusion, can thus set at defiance all the dictates of common sense.
There is one consideration that should have great weight with pious and reflecting minds; which is this: The Deity does not compel man to serve him; he leaves us free to obey or reject his rightful authority; and can we suppose that He would authorize man to usurp and maintain by force an entire control over the will of his fellow-man; to limit the expansion of his mind; to circumscribe the range of his inquiries; to crush the finer feelings of his nature; and this for the purpose of promoting the pecuniary gain of the master? It cannot be; and the most obtuse intellect must perceive that there is a flaw in the mode of reasoning by which slavery is justified. As our learned speaker requires a definition of slavery, I will give him one far more precise than his own, and therefore less suited to his purpose. It is based upon a principle recognised in all the slave States, and expressed in the laws of South Carolina, in these words: “Slaves shall be deemed, sold, taken, reputed, and adjudged, in law, to be chattels personal, in the hands of their owners,” &c. Slavery is, therefore, “that condition in which man is held as a chattel.” The question arises, is this condition right?
Is it consistent with the natural rights of man – with the highest interests of the master and the slave – and with the principles of Christianity? At the very threshold of the discussion, he boldly disclaims and contemns the most cherished principle of the American Revolution, the cornerstone of our republican institutions: he denies the “self-evident truth” so well expressed in the Declaration of Independence, “That all men are created equal.”
This principle, which led to American independence, and which shines as a beacon light to direct the course of other nations struggling for liberty, now stands in the way of perpetuating American slavery; and there are found among us men reckless enough to treat it with contempt, and thus lay their sacrilegious hands on the altar of our liberties. And what is the mighty argument advanced to overthrow the Declaration of Independence? It is the stale and puerile conceit of John C. Calhoun, that men are not created nor born, but infants are born, and grow up to be men. A wonderful discovery, truly! – a fact of which Jefferson, philosopher though he was, must have been profoundly ignorant! But, further than this, we are gravely told that even infants are not born equal; some being stronger than others, endowed with better organs, and inheriting greater estates.
Can any reasonable man suppose that the signers of the Declaration of Independence intended to convey the idea that all persons are born with equal physical strength, equal intellects, or equal estates? No! Their meaning is plainly stated in the context: “They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This part of the Declaration he did not bring into view; and, being generally admitted as self -evident, it requires no argument to sustain it. In order to sustain his second position, that slavery, as it exists in the United States, is right, the main reliance of the speaker is in the alleged inferiority and debasement of the African race; and taking this ground, he is forced to admit that a state of slavery would be equally proper for white persons in the same intellectual and moral condition. This argument has been so well refuted by Henry Clay, in his letter on emancipation in Kentucky, written last winter, that I will quote his language: “An argument in support of reducing the African race to slavery is sometimes derived from their alleged intellectual inferiority to the white races; but, if this argument be founded in fact, (as it may be, but which I shall not now examine,) it would prove entirely too much. It would prove that any white nation which had made greater advances in civilization, knowledge, and wisdom, than another white nation, would have a right to reduce the latter to a state of bondage. Nay, further: if the principle of subjugation founded upon intellectual superiority be true, and be applicable to races and nations, what is to prevent its being applied to individuals? And then the wisest man in the world would have a right to make slaves of all the rest of mankind.” “If, indeed, we possess this intellectual superiority, profoundly grateful and thankful to Him who has bestowed it, we ought to fulfil all the obligations and duties which it imposes; and these would require us not to subjugate or deal unjustly by our fellow-men who are less blessed than we are, but to instruct to improve, and to enlighten them.”
But our clerical defender of slavery and the slave trade assures us that the Africans introduced here were vastly benefited, and that those traffickers in human flesh whom our laws denounce as pirates have been unjustly blamed, for they did not steal men, nor reduce free persons to slavery; they only bought them of the African kings, who would otherwise have put them to death. In fact, he says that this trade, which has been held up to the public reprobation, was a wonderful instance of the providence of God, and the means provided to introduce these heathen idolaters to the Gospel of Christ. To show the horrid barbarity of the African people, he told us that the warriors drank from the skulls of their murdered victims, and made use of their bones to ornament their villages. In order to rebut these charges against the native Africans, and to show what was their character before the slave trade commenced, I will quote a few passages from a tract written by that eminently pious man, John Wesley, and published by him in the year 1774. They are from his “Thoughts on Slavery.” He gives as his authority the writings of “Monseiur Allanson and Mr. Bruce,” both of whom resided in Africa, and the former a correspondent of the Royal Academy of Science at Paris, from 1749 to 1753. “He says the inhabitants of the Grain and Ivory coast are represented as sensible, courteous, and the fairest dealers on the coast of Guinea; they rarely drink to excess; if they do, they are severely punished by the King’s order. They are seldom troubled with war; if a difference happens between two nations, they commonly end the dispute amicably.” “The inhabitants of the Gold and Slave coast likewise, when they are not artfully incensed against each other, live in great union and friendship, being generally well-tempered, civil, tractable, and ready to help any that need it. In particular, the natives of Widnah are civil, kind, and obliging to strangers, and they are the most gentleman-like of all the negroes, abounding in good manners towards each other. The inferiors pay the utmost respect to their superiors; so wives to their husbands, children unto their parents. And they are remarkable industrious; all are incessantly employed; the men in agriculture, the women in spinning and weaving cotton.” All the natives of this coast, though heathens, believe in one God, the author of them and of all things. They appear likewise to have a confused apprehension of a future state; and, accordingly, every town and village has a place of public worship.
He sums up this part of his argument by saying, “Upon the whole, therefore, the negroes who inhabit the coast of Africa, from the river Senegal to the southern bounds of Angola, are, so far from being the stupid, senseless, brutish, barbarous, lazy, the fierce, cruel, perfidious savages they have been described, that, on the contrary, they are represented by those who had no motive to flatter them, as remarkably sensible, considering the few advantages they have for improving their understanding; as industrious in the highest degree, perhaps more so, than any other natives or so warm a climate; as fair, just, and honest, in all their dealings, unless where white men have taught them to be otherwise; as far more mild, friendly, and kind to strangers than any of our forefathers were. Our forefathers! Where shall we find, at this day, among the fair-faced natives of Europe, a nation generally practicing the mercy and truth which are found among these poor Africans! Suppose the preceding accounts are true, (which I see no reason or pretence to doubt,) and we may leave England and France, to seek genuine honesty in Benin, Congo, and Angola.”
Wesley next proceeds to show the means employed by Europeans to obtain slaves on the coast of Africa. Part of them by fraud. “Captains of ship, from time to time, have invited negroes to come on board, and then carried them away. But far more have been procured by force. The Christians, landing upon their coasts, seize as many as they find, men, women, and children, and transport them to America. In 1556, Sir John Hawkins sailed with two ships to Cape Verd, where he sent 80 men on shore to catch negroes. But the natives flying, they fell further down, and there set the men on shore, to burn their towns and take the inhabitants. It was some time before the Europeans found a more commodious way for procuring African slaves, by prevailing upon them to make war upon each other, and sell their prisoners. Till then, they seldom had any wars, but were in general quiet and peaceable. But the white men first taught them drunkenness, and then hired them to sell one another. Nay, by this means, even their kings were induced to sell their own subjects.”
He quotes from Anderson’s History of Trade and Commerce the following passage: “England supplies her American colonies with negro slaves, amounting in numbers to about a hundred thousand every year – that is, so many are taken on board our ships; but at least ten thousand of them die on the voyage; about a fourth part more die at the different islands, in what is called seasoning. So that, at an average, in the passage and seasoning together, 30,000 die – that is, properly speaking, murdered. O earth! O sea! cover not thou their blood!” I have chosen to give these extracts from Wesley, because he is an author of careful research; and allow me to make another quotation from his writings: “And this,” he says, “equally concerns every gentleman who has an estate in our American plantations; yea, all slaveholders, of whatever rank and degree; seeing men-buyers are exactly on a level with men-stealers. “Indeed, you say, I pay honestly for my goods, and I am not concerned to know how they are come by. Nay, but you are; you are deeply concerned to know they are honestly come by. Otherwise, you are a partaker with the thief, and are not a jot honester than him. But you know they are not honestly come by; you know they are procured by means nothing near so innocent as picking of pockets, house-breaking, or robbery on the highway. “Perhaps you will say, I do not buy any negroes; I only use those left me by my father.
So far it is well; but is it enough to satisfy your own conscience? Had your father, have you, has any man living, a right to use another as a slave? It cannot be, even setting Revelation aside. It cannot be that either war or contract can give any man such a property in another as he has in his sheep or oxen? Much less is it possible that any child of man should ever be born a slave. Liberty is the right of every human creature as soon as he breathes the vital air; and no human law can deprive him of that right, which he derives from the law of nature. If, therefore, you have any regard to justice, (to say nothing of mercy or the revealed law of God,) render unto all their due. Give liberty to whom liberty is due – that is, to every child of man, to every partaker of human nature. Let none serve you but by this own act and deed – by his own voluntary choice. Away with all whips, all chains, all compulsion. Be gentle toward all men, and see that you invariably do unto every one as you would that he should do unto you.”
In order to understand this question, and judge correctly of its moral bearings, let us consider what is American Slavery, as exhibited by the law of the slave States. As slave is, “to all intents and purposes, a chattel personal,” and may be taken and sold for his master’s debts; he cannot acquire nor hold property; he can make no contract that his master may not annul; he cannot even contract matrimony, there being no legal marriage for slaves; he cannot be a witness against a white man; he cannot be a party in the civil suit; and when tried for a crime he is not allowed the privilege of a jury. Although the laws are more severe upon him than upon the white man, he is not permitted to read the laws, for education is prohibited. The Sacred Volume is to him a sealed book, except such portions as his master may permit to be read to him. He cannot attend Divine worship without his master’s consent, and then one or more white persons must be present. It he have children, he cannot exercise the duty of a parent in promoting their education, and he knows not how soon they may be taken from him and sold into distant parts; and, finally, his master is privileged at any time to sell him, to imprison him, and to inflict corporal punishment to any extent not affecting life or limb.*
Now, let me ask the reader seriously to consider the nature of American Slavery. Is it calculated to promote the intellectual or moral improvement of the slave? Would we not rather witness the death of our sons and daughters, than to see them consigned to this hopeless condition? When I hear a man assert, in the face of an intelligent audience, that this condition is the best that can be devised to promote the mental improvement of the colored race, I am utterly at a loss to account for the amazing absurdity. He says they are learning in the school of association; and surely they are, for all persons learn in this school, but how different are the lessons they learn. He who associates with intelligent and refined society must partake of its influence, and even the household servant who waits behind his master’s chair may pick up some information from the conversation he hears. But how little that is good can be learned by the field hands on a large estate, who associate only with each other or with the overseer? It is true they are permitted to mingle with the lower class of whites, who are often as ignorant and degraded as themselves.
But I will not ask my readers to take my authority for the mental and spiritual condition of the Southern slaves; I will quote the language of Bishop Andrews, of the M. E. Church South. In a letter published in the S. W. Christian Advocate, in 1841, he says: “Oh what a work is this! Thousands and tens of thousands of immortal souls living in this land of visions, who know little more of God or Heaven than their sable brethren in the interior of Africa, for whose souls no mean careth, while with the avails of their sweat and toil the Southern Church has been contributing her thousands to send the Bible and Missionaries to perishing Pagans beyond the seas.” Having extended this essay to a sufficient length, I shall reserve the Bible argument for another number; and here let me observe, that I believe there among the slaveholders of Virginia many pious and sincere minds, who desire to do their duty by their slaves. They may not view the subject in the same light as I do, and I have no disposition to criminate them, or to take the judgment seat; on the contrary, I desire to encourage them to seek for light from on high – to apply in prayer for Him who alone can guide them, and than I am persuaded He will open a way for them to ‘render unto all their due.’ “ S. M. J.
Essay No. 2.
“Having in my first number reviewed that part of W. A. Smith’s address which relates to the natural and inalienable right of man to the possession of liberty, as recognised in the Declaration of Independence, I now proceed to the consideration of his Bible argument. When we take into view the well-established fact that slavery in nearly the whole of Europe has been abolished by the meliorating influence of Christianity, it would appear strange indeed if this institution were sanctioned by the Bible. So far from this being the fact, I think it may be proved conclusively that the Bible is against slavery, and that they who pervert the sacred text, in order to sustain this ruinous system, are doing more to sap the foundation of pure religion than all the efforts of Deists and Infidels. In this part of the argument nothing new was advanced – nothing but what has often been published by the clerical advocates of slavery, and has been again and again refuted.
Indeed, one of the main arguments formerly relied upon as a strong point was omitted; that is, the malediction pronounced by Noah upon his grandson Canaan. As the African race in this country are not descended from Canaan, the prophetic declaration of the patriarch is equally applicable to the white race as to the black, and, indeed, more so, for the Canaanites were not black. This point, then, was prudently abandoned. The first instance of alleged slaveholding brought forward was that of Abraham, who had 318 “trained servants born in his own house.” In order to show from this example that slavery is right, the speaker had to make two unfounded assumptions: first, that these servants were slaves; secondly, that the whole of Abraham’s conduct, as related in the Bible, was authorized by the Deity, and recorded for an example to us. As these two points are of great importance in the examination of this question, I shall consider them separately.
1st: The term servant and slave are by no means synonymous. “Servant,” says Webster, “differs from slave, as the servant’s subjection to the master is voluntary, the slave’s is not. every slave is a servant, but every servant is not a slave.” We apply the term servant to those who are employed in the service of others – even our members of Congress and the highest officers in the State acknowledge themselves to be public servants; but it would be absurd to say they are the slaves of the public. This observation applies not only to the word servant in our language, but to the corresponding terms in Hebrew and Greek, from which the Scriptures are translated. It therefore devolves upon the advocates of slavery to show that the servants of the Patriarchs were slaves in the sense that we use the term; this they have not done, and cannot do. It is perfectly absurd to suppose that Abraham and his wife Sarah living as they did in a land where they had “no inheritance,” could hold 318 men in involuntary servitude. They were not slaves, but probably proselytes to the faith of Abraham, either born in his house or bought with his money; that is to say, ransomed from captivity, and living under his government from choice. That they were proselytes, may be inferred from the fact of their submitting to the rite of circumcision, for we cannot suppose he would impose his religion upon them by force.
2nd: That Abraham’s acts were not in all cases sanctioned by the Most High, and intended for our imitation, must, I think, be allowed by every candid mind. Passing over his dissimulation in regard to his wife, whom he exposed to great danger, from Pharoah, and afterwards from Abimelech, what are we to think of his taking Hagar, the Egyptian maid-servant for a concubine? Was this intended as an example for modern slaveholders? The same exception may be taken to the conduct of Jacob on several occasions; and if we undertake to justify slavery by the conduct of the Patriarchs, Judges, or Kings of Israel, we may justify, on the same principle, the most shocking immoralities. The fact is, they were mostly mixed characters; some of them were remarkable for their piety and faithfulness as far as they saw, but, living in a dark age, they could not fail to be influenced by the customs and sentiments of the world around them, as all men must be to some extent. By their faithfulness they may have advanced in spiritual knowledge far beyond the age in which they lived, and yet be far behind the Christian dispensation. The same may be said of the Mosaic law, which was undoubtedly far superior to any other code then known, and well adapted to the semi-barbarous condition of the Israelites when they left Egypt; but the Apostle Paul says it made nothing perfect – it was merely a schoolmaster to lead to Christ. Imperfect as it was, however, it did not sanction so revolting a system as that of American Slavery. Let us compare the condition of servants among the Jews with slaves in this country:
1. Servitude among the Israelites was not perpetual. If the servant was a Hebrew, he could not be held more than six years without his consent, but on the seventh he went out free for nothing. If he was from among the Heathen nations around, he went out on the year of Jubilee; for the law declares, “Ye shall hallow the 50th year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land, and unto all in the inhabitants thereof.” – Lev 25 ch., 10 v. If this law were in force here, it would long since have freed all the slaves in this country.
2. Servitude under the law was voluntary, for the command was given to Abraham, and was not abrogated by Moses, that “he that is born in thy house and he that is brought with thy money must be circumcised.” – Gen. xvii, 13. Jewish commentaries agree that this was strictly carried into effect. Thus Maimonider says, “Whether a servant be born in the power of an Israelite, or whether he be purchased from the Heathen, the master is to bring them both into the covenant. But he that is born in the house is to be entered on the eighth day, and he that is bought with money on the day on which the master receives him, unless the slave be unwilling. Another reason why servitude must have been in a great measure revolting, was, that fugitives could not be reclaimed. In Deuteronomy, ch. 23, v. 15 and 15, it is said, “Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee. He shall dwell with thee, even among you in that place which he shall choose in one of thy gates, where it liketh him best; thou shalt no oppress him.”
3. The Mosaic law provided for the instruction of the whole people, both natives and strangers, at stated times. – Deut. xxxi, 10 to 12.
4. There was no distinction in the administration of the law: “Ye shall have one manner of law as well for the stranger as for one of your own country.” – lev. xix, 15, xxiv, 22.
5. The descendants of bond-servants were incorporated into the Jewish nation. The Gibeonites were an exception to this last clause, for they were tributaries, and not domestic servants; they still resided in their own cities, and cultivated their own fields; but they were as “hewers of wood and drawers of water for the congregation and for the altar of the Lord.” This service, in the time of Solomon, was performed by making drafts upon them in rotation. From a consideration of these provisions in the Mosaic law, it appears to have been calculated to improve the condition of the Heathens who were held in temporary bondage. It was not, like the law of our slave States, intended solely for the benefit of the master. We come now to the Christian dispensation, and we find, at every opening of it, that the Messiah declared he came to “preach deliverance to the captives,” and to “set at liberty them that are bruised.” – Luke vi, 18.
This promise has been wonderfully fulfilled in its literal as well as its figurative sense; for millions of human beings have been delivered from bondage by the benign influence of the Gospel, operating upon the minds of individuals, and meliorating the laws of nations. The whole spirit of the Gospel of Christ may be expressed in two words – love to God and man. It inculcates disinterested benevolence and self-sacrifice on the part of every disciple. To love our neighbor as ourselves, to do unto others as we would that they should do unto us, is the Christian law, which, if carried out in practice, would “break every yoke and let the oppressed go free.” It has been attempted to evade this law by saying it only means, when applied to slavery, that the master should hold his slave, and treat him as he himself would wish to be treated by a master – that is, to be well fed, well clothed, and not immoderately worked. These instructions are just such as we might expect from a disciple of the meek, non-resisting Saviour.
He did not advise the slave to rebel against his master, nor the subject against his Prince. But can we suppose that by this advice he sanctioned the cruel system of Roman slavery, or the despotic character of the Imperial Government? To the servants he says: “Art thou called, being a servant, care not for it; but if thou mayst be made free, use it rather; for he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s free man; likewise, also, he that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant. Ye are bought with a price, be not yet the servants of men.” – 1 Corr. vii, 20, 23.
And to the masters he says: “Give unto your servants that which is just and equal.” – Col. iv, 1. Can it be possible that the Apostle sanctions slavery, while he inculcates in the servant the love of freedom, and requires the master to grant justice and equality? The most remarkable part of the address was the attempt of the speaker to show that the Apostle Paul, in his first Epistle to Timothy, has prophetically described the Abolitionists of the present day, when he speaks of certain teachers, who “were men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness.”
Now, I had always supposed that these were mercenary teachers of religion. The same class is described in the Epistle to Titus as being “of the circumcision,’ and teaching things they ought not, for “filthy lucre’s sake.” – Titus I, 10, 11. They were probably great sticklers for the Mosaic law, which, by its tythe system, provided a fat living for the ministers of religion, whereas Paul worked with his own hands as a tent-maker, in order to “make the Gospel without charge.” It seems unnecessary to extend further this part of the argument; for if Christianity sanctioned slavery, it must have sanctioned the kind of slavery then existing among the Romans, which is represented by all historians to have been a system of the most unrelenting barbarity. To suppose such a system to be consistent with the benign spirit of the Gospel, agues an obtuseness of intellect that I will not impute to my readers. In my next number, which will be the last, I shall advert to that part of the address which related to emancipation.” S. M. J.
Essay No. 3.
“The question of human rights having been discussed in my first number, and the Bible argument in the second, I now proceed to the consideration of the views presented by the speaker in relation to emancipation. It will be remembered by many who heard the address, that he represented American slavery, and even the African slave trade, as a vast scheme of beneficence, ordered by the Deity, for the purpose of Christianizing and civilizing the heathen.
The colonization of the colored race in Liberia is a part of the scheme, and the Southern plantations are the schools where the future missionaries of Africa are being prepared by the process of “association.” I have already shown, by extracts from the writings of John Wesley, how gentle, honest, and industrious, the Africans were before the slave trade began; and I have proved, by the testimony of Bishop Andrews, of the Methodist Church South, that the slaves in our Southern States are in a state of darkness and degradation approaching to heathenism.
Even the speaker himself seemed to admit that civilization has made but little progress among them; for he said it would ruin the Colonly to send the “corn field hands.” And I presume it will be admitted by all, that the slaves on the cotton and sugar estates are still more degraded. It would seem, then, that this great and beneficent scheme has not worked well, although the rod has been spared in these Southern “schools of association.” If two centuries of servitude have not prepared the colored race in Virginia for citizenship in Liberia, how many centuries more will it take, of the same kind of schooling, to enlighten and christianize those thousands and tens of thousands in the Southern States, who are said by Bishop Andrews “to know little more of God or Heaven than their sable brethren in the interior of Africa.?” That must indeed be a wonderful school of civilization, where laws are made to keep men in ignorance because they are slaves, and laws to keep them in slavery because they are ignorant; where men are brought from foreign lands, on purpose to enlighten them, and prohibited from learning to read, lest they should become enlightened; where the slave is so happy and contented that they would not leave their masters, and yet patrols are established to prevent them from absconding; where the free blacks are such nuisances that they are banished from the State, and yet are chosen as missionaries to christianize Africa.
But to speak seriously. The whole argument by which it is attempted to justify slavery, on the ground of benevolence, is a tissue of the most groundless assumptions and glaring contradictions that ever were palmed off upon a people willing to be deceived. The relation of master and slave is injurious to both, and in many cases fully as much so to the former as to the latter. Although our country has the unenviable notoriety of being among the few that have prohibited the education of the colored race, yet even in those countries where attempts have been made to promote education among slaves, (as, for instance, in some of the West India islands previous to emancipation,) great obstacles have been thrown in the way by the masters, who are accustomed to consider their interest as paramount to all others.
It is a fact established by all history, that slavery is incompatible with progress; for its divorces labor from intellect. The slave, being generally dull and ignorant, and having but little interest in his employment, performs his work in a slovenly and indifferent manner; he does little, and wastes much. He is incapable of making improvements himself, or applying the discoveries of others. The master is too often brought up in the lap of indulgence; he has not the energy and practical knowledge essential to success, and his lands are impoverished by unskillful culture. Thus immense tracts of land in Eastern Virginia have been worn out and abandoned, and population and wealth have diminished.
The speaker, whose address I am reviewing, acknowledged that the wasted and impoverished lands of Eastern Virginia are often pointed to as an evidence of the desolating effect of slavery. He contended, however, that this was not the necessary result of slavery, but of mismanagement and improvidence on the part of the whites. He advised masters to stay at home, and attend to their own concerns; to bring up their sons in habits of industry, and then they would not complain, as they now do, that slavery is a curse to the whites.
But let me ask the advocates of this system, why is it that this impoverishment is only observed in slave States, while all the free States are rapidly advancing? Why is it that in Virginia those counties are most prosperous that have the fewest slaves? And how shall we account for the fact that, in the county of Loudoun, lands are most valuable in those neighborhoods that are cultivated by free labor? The stream of immigration which is setting towards our shores from the Old World, spreads over the free States of the North and West, but shuns the deserted fields of old Virginia. Swarms of industrious and enterprising freemen from the prolific Northern hive of New England have built up great cities in the West, have covered her rivers with the floating palaces of commerce, and have broken the silence of her frosts with the hum of manufactories. But how few have fixed their abode where the malaria of slavery prevails! Is this blighting influence to continue forever? Can no remedy be found?
Yes, there is a remedy. Virginia must look towards emancipation; and how gradual soever may be the plan adopted, our hopes will revive, and our prosperity commence, from the very date of its enactment. Only let it be known that Virginia is determined to rid herself of slavery, even at a distant day, and her great natural resources would attract the attention of enterprising capitalists. Manufactures would be established, cities built, agriculture improved, and her waste lands, that are now unproductive, would become a source of independent wealth. It is not my purpose to propose a plan of emancipation; it will be time enough to lay down plans when the people of Virginia are determined to do something towards this great object. In the mean time, let me ask the serious attention of reflecting minds, and especially the professors of religion, to the solemn duty that rests upon us, to improve the condition and enlighten the minds of our free colored population.
Whether they remain here, emigrate to Liberia, or remove to other States, it is our christian duty to provide for their education. Even the people of Louisiana are far in advance of us in liberality towards them; for, during the last winter, the Legislature of that State not only made a liberal grant of funds to establish common schools for whites, but also appropriated $1,000 for the education of free colored children. The law of Virginia, prohibiting the education of free people of color, is a disgrace to our statute book, and ought to be repealed. If these people are badly treated in the free States, as the speaker informed us, there is the greater necessity for treating them kindly here in the land of their birth. But I believe that the accounts we have heard of the extreme poverty and wretchedness in the Northern cities are greatly exaggerated.
According to a statistical account of the colored population of Philadelphia, collected and published in 1838, by a committee, of whom the late Dr. Joseph Parrish was chairman, it appears that the number at that time in the city was 18,768, and that they owned real and personal property to the amount of $1,350,000. There were among them nine free schools, having in their rolls 1,116 children, and sixteen pay schools, with 616 scholars, making an aggregate of more than half the colored children in the city of a suitable age to go to school. There were also numerous Sabbath schools, having an aggregate attendance of 1,987 scholars. They had five literary societies for mutual improvement, with libraries containing 782 volumes. They had 80 beneficial societies, for relieving the sick and burying the dead, comprising 7,448 members, the subscriptions to which amounted, in the year 1837, to the sum of $18,800. And they had sixteen meeting-houses, which were valued at $114,000. At that time, the whole number of persons in the almshouse was 1,673, of whom, 253, or about one-seventh, were persons of color.
These statistics are sufficient to refute the exaggerated statements we so often hear; and I can further state, as the result of personal observation within a few years past, that they are now an improving people. As to the municipal laws, which the speaker told us prohibited them from certain kinds of employment in the Northern States, I believe it is altogether a mistake; but a combination among the irish and other foreigners in the city of New York, has, by intimidation, excluded them from the driving of cabs and drays, and perhaps from some other occupations. This exclusion, so far from justifying a similar treatment here, ought to excite our sympathy, and induce us to set them a better example.
There was one recommendation of the speaker, with regard to the treatment of the colored race, that I highly approve; that is, to endeavor to imbue them with a sentiment of self-respect; for, without this, improvement is impossible. But how can we expect them to have this sentiment while held in slavery? Are they not taught from their earliest years to consider themselves an inferior race, designed for servitude? Are they not required to observe the most cringing and servile behaviour, and to regard the master’s will as their highest law? to assert that this is a condition favorable to mental or moral improvement, argues an amount of prejudice that appears unaccountable. And now let me ask, what are the professor of religion in Virginia doing for the colored race among us? Do they seek to remove prejudice, or ameliorate the laws? By no means.
With the single exception of the Society of Friends, not one religious body in Eastern Virginia, within my knowledge, has presented a petition to our Legislature, or made any other effort to have our oppressive laws modified or repealed. On the contrary, it is a remarkable fact, that most of the defenders of slavery have come from the clerical ranks. The Stringfellows, the Fullars, the Rices, the Thorntons, and the Smiths, have stood forth as the champions of slavery and the slave trade; and in order to sustain this ruinous system, they pervert the sacred text, and charge upon the Deity that which has sprung from the depravity of man.
Oh! that the Southern churches would awaken to a sense of their responsibility! That they would direct their vast influence to the melioration and extinction of slavery. Let them remember that a traffic in human beings is carried on in our midst, not less cruel and disgraceful than the African slave trade; that laws and customs prevail here, which virtually forbid or annul the marriage covenant; that the dearest and most sacred family ties are rent asunder, and the victims of oppression are forbidly removed from all the endearments of domestic life and all the associations of childhood, to drag out a miserable existence on the cotton fields and sugar estates of the South.
While slavery exists, we know that these enormities must continue. And can it be possible that the professor of religion, the friends of education, or the patriots of Virginia, will longer remain with folded arms, as though unconscious of these moral and social evils, for which we are all responsible?” S. M. J.
* See Judge Stroud’s Sketch of Laws of the Slave States.