CHAPTER V: COLONIZATION SOCIETY, AND ANTI-SLAVERY SOCIETY.
It is not madness
When doctrines meet with general approbation,
SO much excitement prevails with regard to these two societies at present, that it will be difficult to present a view of them which will be perfectly satisfactory to all. I shall say what appears to me, to be candid and true, without any anxiety as to whom it may please, and whom it may displease. I need not say that I have a decided predilection, because it has been sufficiently betrayed in the preceding pages and I allude to it for the sake of perfect sincerity, rather than from an idea that my opinion is important.
The American Colonization Society was organized a little more than
sixteen years ago at the city of Washington, chosen as the most
central place in the Union.—Auxiliary institutions have since been
formed in almost every part of the country; and nearly all the
distinguished men belong to it. The doing away of slavery in the
United States, by gradually removing all the blacks to Africa, has
been generally supposed to be its object.—The project at first
excited some jealousy in the Southern States; and the Society in order
to allay this, were anxious to make all possible concessions to slave
owners, in their Addresses, Reports, &c.; In Mr. Clay's speech,
printed in the first Annual Report of the Society, he said,
"It is far from the intention of this Society to affect, in any manner, the tenure by which a certain species of property is held. I am myself a slave-holder, and I consider that kind of property as inviolable as any other in the country. I would resist encroachment upon it as soon, and with as much firmness as I would upon any other property that I hold. Nor am I prepared to go as far as the gentleman, who has just spoken (Mr. Mercer) in saying that I would emancipate my slaves, if the means were provided of sending them from the country."
At the same meeting Mr. Randolph said, "He thought it necessary, being himself a slave-holder, to show that so far from being in the smallest degree connected with the abolition of slavery, the proposed Society would prove one of the greatest securities to enable the master to keep in possession his own property."
In Mr. Clay's speech, in the second Annual Report, he declares: "It is not proposed to deliberate upon, or consider at all, any question of emancipation, or any that is connected with the abolition of slavery. On this condition alone gentlemen from the South and West can be expected to cooperate. On this condition only, I have myself attended."
In the seventh Annual Report it is said, "An effort for the benefit of the blacks, in which all parts of the country can unite, of course must not have the abolition of slavery for its immediate object; nor may it aim directly at the instruction of the blacks. "
Mr. Archer of Virginia, fifteenth Annual Report, says, "The object of the Society, if I understand it aright, involves no intrusion on property, nor even upon prejudice. "
In the speech of James S. Green, Esq. he says: "This Society have ever disavowed, and they do yet disavow that their object is the emancipation of slaves. They have no wish if they could to interfere in the smallest degree with what they deem the most interesting and fearful subject, which can be pressed upon the American public. There is no people that treat their slaves with so much kindness and so little cruelty."
In almost every address delivered before the Society similar
expressions occur.—On the propriety of discussing the evils of
slavery, without bitterness and without
fear, good men may differ in opinion, though I think the time is fast coming, when they will all agree.—But by assuming the ground implied in the above remarks, the Colonization Society have fallen into the habit of glossing over the enormities of the slave system; at least, it so appears to me. In their constitution they have pledged themselves not to speak, write, or do anything to offend the Southerners; and as there is no possible way of making the truth pleasant to those who do not love it, the Society must perforce keep the truth out of sight. In many of their publications, I have thought I discovered a lurking tendency to palliate slavery; or, at least to make the best of it. They often bring to my mind the words of Hamlet:
"Forgive me this my virtue;
Thus in an Address delivered March, 1833, we are told, "It ought never to be forgotten that the slave-trade between Africa and America, had its origin in a compassionate endeavor to relieve, by the substitution of negro labor, the toils endured by native Indians. It was the simulated form of mercy that piloted the first slave-ship across the Atlantic."
I am aware that Las Casas used this argument; but it was less unbecoming in him than it is in a philanthropist of the present day. The speaker does indeed say that "the 'infinite of agonies' and the infinite of crime, since suffered and committed, proves that mercy cannot exist in opposition to justice." I can hardly realize what sort of a conscience it must be, that needed the demonstration.
The plain truth was, the Spaniards were in a hurry for gold; they overworked the native Indians, who were inconsiderate enough to die in very inconvenient numbers; but the gold must be had, and that quickly; and so the Africans were forced to come and die in company with the Indians. And in the nineteenth century, we are told it is our duty not to forget that this was a "simulated form of mercy"! A dissimulated form would have been the better expression.
If we may believe slave owners, the whole system, from
beginning to end, is a matter of mercy. They have described the Middle Passage, with its gags, fetters, and thumbscrews, as "the happiest period of a negro's life"; they say they do the slaves a great charity in bringing them from barbarous Africa to a civilized and Christian country; and on the plantation, under the whip of the driver, the negroes are so happy, that a West India planter publicly declared he could not look upon them, without wishing to be himself a slave.
In the speech above referred to, we are told, that as to any political interference, "the slave States are foreign States. We can alienate their feelings until they become foreign enemies; or, on the other hand, we can conciliate them until they become allies and auxiliaries in the sacred cause of emancipation."
But so long as the South insist that slavery is unavoidable, and say they will not tolerate any schemes tending to its abolition—and so long as the North take the necessity of slavery for an unalterable truth, and put down any discussions, however mild and candid, which tend to show that it may be done away with safety—so long as we thus strengthen each other's hands in evil, what remote hope is there of emancipation? If by political interference is meant hostile interference, or even a desire to promote insurrection, I should at once pronounce it to be most wicked; but if by political interference is meant the liberty to investigate this subject, as other subjects are investigated—to inquire into what has been done, and what may be done—I say it is our sacred duty to do it. To enlighten public opinion is the best way that has yet been discovered for the removal of national evils; and slavery is certainly a national evil.
The Southern States, according to their own evidence, are
impoverished by it; a great amount of wretchedness and crime
inevitably follows in its train; the prosperity of the North is
continually checked by it; it promotes feelings of rivalry between the
States; it separates our interests; makes our councils discordant;
threatens the destruction of our government; and disgraces us in the
eyes of the world. I have often heard Americans who had been abroad,
declare that nothing embarrassed
them so much as being questioned about our slaves; and that nothing was so mortifying as to have the pictures of runaway negroes pointed at in the newspapers of this republic. La Fayette, with all his admiration for our institutions, can never speak of the subject without regret and shame.
Now a common evil certainly implies a common right to remedy; and where is the remedy to be found, if the South in all their speeches and writings repeat that slavery must exist—if the Colonization Society re-echo, in all their Addresses and Reports, that there is no help for the evil, and it is very wicked to hint that there is—and if public opinion here brands every body as a fanatic and madman, who wishes to inquire what can be done? The supineness of New England on this subject, reminds me of the man who being asked to work at the pump, because the vessel was going down, answered, "I am only a passenger."
An error often and urgently repeated is apt to receive the sanction of truth; and so it is in this case. The public take it for granted that slavery is a "lamentable necessity." Nevertheless there is a way to effect its cure, if we all join sincerely, earnestly, and kindly in the work; but if we expend our energies in palliating the evil, or mourning over its hopelessness, or quarreling about who is the most to blame for it, the vessel,—crew, passengers, and all,—will go down together.
I object to the Colonization Society, because it tends to put public opinion asleep, on a subject where it needs to be wide awake.
The address above alluded to, does indeed inform us of one thing
which we are at liberty to do: "We must go
to the master and adjure him, by all the
sacred rights of humanity, by all the laws of natural justice, by his
dread responsibilities,—which in the economy of Providence, are
always coextensive and commensurate with power,—to
raise the slave out of his abyss of
degradation, to give him a participation in the benefits of mortal
existence, and to make him a member of the intellectual
and moral world, from which he, and his fathers, for so many
generations, have been exiled." The practical
utility of such a plan needs no comment. Slave owners will smile when they read it.
I will for a moment glance at what many suppose is still the intention of the Colonization Society, viz. gradually to remove all the blacks in the United States. The Society has been in operation more than fifteen years, during which it has transported between two and three thousand free people of color. There are in the United States two million of slaves, and three hundred thousand free blacks; and their numbers are increasing at the rate of seventy thousand annually. While the Society have removed less than three thousand,—five hundred thousand have been born. While one hundred and fifty free blacks have been sent to Africa in a year, two hundred slaves have been born in a day. To keep the evil just where it is, seventy thousand a year must be transported. How many ships, and how many millions of money, would it require to do this? It would cost 3,500,000 dollars a year, to provide for the safety of our Southern brethren in this way! To use the language of Mr. Hayne, it would "bankrupt the treasury of the world" to execute the scheme. And if such a great number could be removed annually, how would the poor fellows subsist? Famines have already been produced, even by the few that have been sent. What would be the result of landing several thousand destitute beings, even on the most fertile of our own cultivated shores?
And why should they be removed? Labor is greatly needed, and we are glad to give good wages for it. We encourage emigration from all parts of the world; why is it not good policy, as well as good feeling, to improve the colored people, and pay them for the use of their faculties? For centuries to come, the means of sustenance in this vast country must be much greater than the population; then why should we drive away people, whose services may be most useful? If the moral cultivation of negroes received the attention it ought, thousands and thousands would at the present moment be gladly taken up in families, factories, &c.; And, like other men, they ought to be allowed to fit themselves for more important usefulness, as far and as fast as they can.
There will, in all human probability, never be any decrease in the black population of the United States. Here they are, and here they must remain, in very large numbers, do what we will. We may at once agree to live together in mutual good will, and perform a mutual use to each other—or we may go on, increasing tyranny on one side, and jealousy and revenge on the other, until the fearful elements complete their work of destruction, and something better than this sinful republic rises on the ruins. Oh, how earnestly do I wish that we may choose the holier and safer path!
To transport the blacks in such annual numbers as has hitherto been done, cannot have any beneficial effect upon the present state of things. It is Dame Partington with her pail mopping up the rushing waters of the Atlantic! So far as this gradual removal has any effect, it tends to keep up the price of slaves in the market, and thus perpetuate the system. A writer in the Kentucky Luminary, speaking of colonization, uses the following argument: "None are obliged to follow our example; and those who do not, will find the value of their negroes increased by the departure of ours."
If the value of slaves is kept up, it will be a strong temptation to smuggle in the commodity; and thus while one vessel carries them out from America, another will be bringing them in from Africa. This would be like dipping up the waters of Chesapeake Bay into barrels, conveying it across the Atlantic, and emptying it into the Mediterranean: the Chesapeake would remain as full as ever, and by the time the vessel returned, wind and waves would have brought the same water back again.
Slaves owners have never yet, in any part of the world, been known to favor, as a body, any scheme, which could ultimately tend to abolish slavery; yet in this country, they belong to the Colonization Society in large numbers, and agree to pour from their State treasuries into its funds. Individuals object to it, it is true; but the scheme is very generally favored in the slave States.
The following extract from Mr. Wood's speech in the Legislature of
Virginia, will show upon what ground the
owners of slaves are willing to sanction any schemes of benevolence. The "Colonization Society may be a part of the grand system of the Ruler of the Universe, to provide for the transfer of negroes to their mother country. Their introduction into this land may have been one of the inscrutable ways of Providence to confer blessings upon that race—it may have been decreed that they shall be the means of conveying to the minds of their benighted countrymen, the blessing of religious and civil liberty. But I fear there is little ground to believe the means have yet been created to effect so glorious a result, or that the present race of slaves are to be benefited by such a removal. I shall trust that many of them may be carried to the southwestern States as slaves. Should this door be closed, how can Virginia get rid of so large a number as are now annually deported to the different States and Territories where slaves are wanted? Can the gentlemen show us how from twelve thousand to twenty thousand can be annually carried to Liberia?"
Yet notwithstanding such numbers of mothers and children are yearly sent from a single State, "separately or in lots," to supply the demands of the internal slave trade, Mr. Hayne, speaking of freeing these people and sending them away, says: "It is wholly irreconcilable with our notions of humanity to tear asunder the tender ties, which they had formed among us, to gratify the feelings of a false philanthropy"!
As for the removal of blacks from this
country, the real fact is this: the slave States are very desirous to
get rid of their troublesome surplus of
colored population, and they are willing that we should help to pay
for the transportation. A double purpose is served by this: for the
active benevolence which is eager to work in the cause, is thus turned
into a harmless and convenient channel. Neither the planters nor the
Colonization Society, seem to ask what right
we have to remove people from the places where they have been born and
brought up,—where they have a home, which, however miserable, is
still their home,—and where their relatives and acquaintances all
reside. Africa is no more their native
country than England is ours,*—nay, it is less so, because there is no community of language or habits;—besides, we cannot say to them, as Gilpin said to his horse, "'Twas for your pleasure you came here, you shall go back for mine."
In the Virginia Debate of 1832 it was agreed that very few of the free colored people would be willing to go to Africa; and this is proved by several petitions from them, praying for leave to remain. One of the Virginian legislators said, "either moral or physical force must be used to compel them to go;" some of them advised immediate coercion; others recommended persuasion first, until their numbers were thinned, and coercion afterward. I believe the resolution finally passed the House without any proviso of this sort; and I mention it merely to show that it was generally supposed the colored people would be unwilling to go.
The planters are resolved to drive the free blacks away; and it is another evil of the Colonization Society that their friends and their influence cooperate with them in this project. They do not indeed thrust the free negroes off, at the point of the bayonet; but they make their laws and customs so very unequal and oppressive, that the poor fellows are surrounded by raging fires on every side, and must leap into the Atlantic for safety. In slave ethics I suppose this is called "moral force." If the slave population is left to its own natural increase, the crisis will soon come; for labor will be so very cheap that slavery will not be for the interest of the whites. Why should we retard this crisis?
In the next place, many of the Colonizationists, (I do not suppose
it applies to all) are averse to giving the blacks a good education;
and they are not friendly to the establishment of schools and colleges
for that purpose. Now I would ask any candid person why colored
children should not be educated? Some say, it will raise them above their situation; I answer, it will raise them in their situation—not above it. When a High School for white girls was first talked of in this city, several of the wealthy class objected to it; because, said they, "if everybody is educated, we shall have no servants." This argument is based on selfishness, and therefore cannot stand. If carried into operation, the welfare of many would be sacrificed to the convenience of a few. We might as well protest against the sunlight, for the benefit of lamp-oil merchants. Of all monopolies, a monopoly of knowledge is the worst. Let it be as active as the ocean—as free as the wind—as universal as the sun-beams! Lord Brougham said very wisely, "if the higher classes are afraid of being left in the rear, they likewise must hasten onward."
With our firm belief in the natural inferiority of negroes, it is strange we should be so much afraid that knowledge will elevate them quite too high for our convenience. In the march of improvement, we are several centuries in advance; and if, with this obstacle at the very beginning, they can outstrip us, why then, in the name of justice, let them go ahead! Nay, give them three cheers as they pass. If any nation, or any class of men, can obtain intellectual preeminence, it is a sure sign they deserve it; and by this republican rule the condition of the world will be regulated as surely as the waters find their level.
Besides, like all selfish policy, this is not true policy. The more useful knowledge a person has, the better he fulfils his duties in any station; and there is no kind of knowledge, high or low, which may not be brought into use.
But it has been said, that information will make the blacks discontented; because, if ever so learned, they will not be allowed to sit at the white man's table, or marry the white man's daughter.
In relation to this question, I would ask, "Is there anybody so
high, that they do not see others above them?" The working classes of
this country have no social communication with the aristocracy. Every
day of my life I see people who can dress better, and live in
better houses, than I can afford. There are many individuals who would not choose to make my acquaintance, because I am not of their caste—but I should speak a great untruth, if I said this made me discontented. They have their path and I have mine; I am happy in my own way, and am willing they should be happy in theirs. If asked whether what little knowledge I have produces discontent, I should answer, that it made me happier, infinitely happier, than I could be without it.
Under every form of government, there will be distinct classes of society, which have only occasional and transient communication with each other; and the colored people, whether educated or not, will form one of these classes. By giving them means of information, we increase their happiness, and make them better members of society. I have often heard it said that there was a disproportionate number of crimes committed by the colored people in this State. The same thing is true of the first generation of Irish emigrants; but we universally attribute it to their ignorance, and agree that the only remedy is to give their children as good an education as possible. If the policy is wise in one instance, why would it not be so in the other?
As for the possibility of social intercourse between the different colored races, I have not the slightest objection to it, provided they were equally virtuous, and equally intelligent; but I do not wish to war with the prejudices of others; I am willing that all, who consult their consciences, should keep them as long as ever they can. One thing is certain, the blacks will never come into your houses, unless you ask them; and you need not ask them unless you choose. They are very far from being intrusive in this respect.
With regard to marrying your daughters, I believe the feeling in opposition to such unions is quite as strong among the colored class, as it is among white people.—While the prejudice exists, such instances must be exceedingly rare, because the consequence is degradation in society. Believe me, you may safely trust to anything that depends on the pride and selfishness of unregenerated human nature.
Perhaps, a hundred years hence, some negro Rothschild may come from Hayti, with his seventy millions of pounds, and persuade some white woman to sacrifice herself to him.—Stranger things than this do happen every year.—But before that century has passed away, I apprehend there will be a sufficient number of well-informed and elegant colored women in the world, to meet the demands of colored patricians. Let the sons and daughters of Africa both be educated, and then they will be fit for each other. They will not be forced to make war upon their white neighbors for wives; nor will they, if they have intelligent women of their own, see anything so very desirable in the project. Shall we keep this class of people in everlasting degradation, for fear one of their descendants may marry our great-great-great-great-grandchild?
While the prejudice exists, such unions cannot take place; and when the prejudice is melted away, they will cease to be a degradation, and of course cease to be an evil.
My third and greatest objection to the Colonization Society is, that its members write and speak, both in public and private, as if the prejudice against skins darker colored than our own, was a fixed and unalterable law of our nature, which cannot possibly be changed. The very existence of the Society is owing to this prejudice: for if we could make all the colored people white, or if they could be viewed as impartially as if they were white, what would be left for the Colonization Society to do? Under such circumstances, they would have a fair chance to rise in their moral and intellectual character, and we should be glad to have them remain among us, to give their energies for our money, as the Irish, the Dutch, and people from all parts of the world are now doing.
I am aware that some of the Colonizationists make large
professions on this subject; but nevertheless we are constantly told
by this Society, that people of color must be removed, not only
because they are in our way, but because they must
always be in a state of degradation here—that they never
can have all the rights and privi-
leges of citizens—and all this is because the prejudice is so great.
"The Managers consider it clear that causes exist and are operating to prevent their (the blacks) improvement and elevation to any considerable extent as a class, in this country, which are fixed, not only beyond the control of the friends of humanity, but of any human power. Christianity will not do for them here, what it will do for them in Africa. This is not the fault of the colored man, nor Christianity; but an ordination of Providence, and no more to be changed than the laws of Nature!"—Last Annual Report of American Colonization Society.
"The habits, the feelings, all the prejudices of society—prejudices which neither refinement, nor argument, nor education, NOR RELIGION ITSELF, can subdue—mark the people of color, whether bond or free, as the subjects of a degradation inevitable and incurable. The African in this country belongs by birth to the very lowest station in society; and from that station HE CAN NEVER RISE, be his talents, his enterprise, his virtues what they may. They constitute a class by themselves—a class out of which no individual can be elevated, and below which none can be depressed."—African Repository, vol. iv. pp. 118,119.
This is shaking hands with iniquity, and covering sin with a
silver veil. Our prejudice against the blacks is founded in sheer
pride; and it originates in the circumstance that people of their
color only, are universally allowed to be slaves. We made slavery, and
slavery makes the prejudice. No Christian, who questions his own
conscience, can justify himself in indulging the feeling. The removal
of this prejudice is not a matter of opinion—it is a matter of
duty. We have no right to palliate a feeling,
sinful in itself, and highly injurious to a large number of our fellow
beings. Let us no longer act upon the narrow-minded idea, that we must
always continue to do wrong, because we have so long been in the habit
of doing it. That there is no necessity for
the prejudice is shown by facts. In England, it exists to a much less
degree than it does here. If a respectable col-
ored person enters a church there, the pews are readily opened to him; if he appears at an inn, room is made for him at the table, and no laughter, or winking, reminds him that he belongs to an outcast race. A highly respectable English gentleman residing in this country has often remarked that nothing filled him with such utter astonishment as our prejudice with regard to color.—There is now in old England a negro, with whose name, parentage, and history, I am well acquainted, who was sold into West Indian slavery by his New England master; (I know his name.) The unfortunate negro became free by the kindness of an individual, and has now a handsome little property, and the command of a vessel. He must take care not to come into the ports of our Southern republics!—The anecdote of Prince Saunders is well known; but it will bear repeating. He called upon an American family, then residing in London.—The fashionable breakfast hour was very late, and the family were still seated at the table. The lady fidgetted between the contending claims of politeness and prejudice. At last, when all but herself had risen from the table, she said, as if struck by a sudden thought, "Mr. Saunders, I forgot to ask if you had breakfasted." "I thank you, madam," replied the colored gentleman; "but I have engaged to breakfast with the Prince Regent this morning."
Mr. Wilberforce and Mr. Brougham have often been seen in the streets of London, walking arm in arm with people of color. The same thing is true of Brissot, La Fayette, and several other distinguished Frenchmen.—In this city, I never but once saw such an instance: When the Philadelphia company were here last summer, I met one of the officers walking arm in arm with a fine looking black musician. The circumstance gave me a good deal of respect for the white man; for I thought he must have kind feelings and correct principles, thus fearlessly to throw off a worse than idle prejudice.
In Brazil, people of color are lawyers, clergymen, merchants and
military officers; and in the Portuguese, as well as the Spanish
settlements, intermarriages bring no degradation. On the shores of the
Levant, some of
the wealthiest merchants are black. If we were accustomed to see intelligent and polished negroes, the prejudice would soon disappear. There is certainly no law of our nature which makes a dark color repugnant to our feelings. We admire the swarthy beauties of Spain; and the finest forms of statuary are often preferred in bronze. If the whole world were allowed to vote on the question, there would probably be a plurality in favor of complexions decidedly dark. Everybody knows how much the Africans were amused at the sight of Mungo Park, and what an ugly misfortune they considered his pale color, prominent nose, and thin lips.
Ought we to be called Christians, if we allow a prejudice so absurd to prevent the improvement of a large portion of the human race, and interfere with what all civilized nations consider the most common rights of mankind? It cannot be that my enlightened and generous countrymen will sanction anything so narrow-minded and so selfish.
Having found much fault with the Colonization Society, it is pleasant to believe that one portion of their enterprise affords a distant prospect of doing more good than evil. They now principally seek to direct the public attention to the founding of a Colony in Africa; and this may prove beneficial in process of time. If the colored emigrants were educated before they went there, such a Colony would tend slowly, but certainly, to enlighten Africa, to raise the character of the negroes, to strengthen the increasing liberality of public opinion, and to check the diabolical slave trade. If the Colonizationists will work zealously and judiciously in this department, pretend to do nothing more, and let others work in another and more efficient way, they will deserve the thanks of the country; but while it is believed that they do all the good which can be done in this important cause, they will do more harm in America, than they can atone for in Africa.
Very different pictures are drawn of Liberia; one party represents
it as thriving beyond description, the other insists that it will soon
fall into ruin. It is but candid to suppose that the colony is going
on as well as
could possibly be expected, when we consider that the emigrants are almost universally ignorant and vicious, without property, and without habits of industry or enterprise. The colored people in our slave States must, almost without exception, be destitute of information; and in choosing negroes to send away, the masters would be very apt to select the most helpless and the most refractory. Hence the superintendents of Liberia have made reiterated complaints of being flooded with ship-loads of "vagrants." These causes are powerful drawbacks. But the negroes in Liberia have schools and churches, and they have freedom, which, wherever it exists, is always striving to work its upward way.
There is a palpable contradiction in some of the statements of this Society.
"We are told that the Colonization Society is to civilize and evangelize Africa. 'Each emigrant,' says Henry Clay, the ablest advocate which the Society has yet found, 'is a missionary, carrying with him credentials in the holy cause of civilization, religion and free institutions!!'"
"Who are these emigrants—these missionaries?"
"The Free people of color. 'They, and they only,' says the African Repository, the Society's organ, 'are QUALIFIED for colonizing Africa.'"
"What are their qualifications?" Let the Society answer in its own words:
"'Free blacks are a greater nuisance than even slaves themselves.'"'—African Repository, vol. ii. p. 328.
"'A horde of miserable people—the objects of universal suspicion—subsisting by plunder.'"—C. F. Mercer.
"'An anomalous race of beings, the most debased upon earth.' " African Repository, vol. vii. p. 230.
"'Of all classes of our population the most vicious is that of the free colored.'"—Tenth Annual Report of Colonization Society.
An Education Society has been formed in connection with the
Colonization Society, and their complaint is principally that they
cannot find proper subjects for instruction. Why cannot such subjects
be found? Sim-
ply because our ferocious prejudices compel the colored children to grow up in ignorance and vicious companionship, and when we seek to educate them, we find their minds closed against the genial influence of knowledge.
When I heard of the Education Society, I did hope to find one stance of sincere, thorough, disinterested good will for the blacks. But in the constitution of that Society, I again find the selfish principle predominant. They pledge themselves to educate no colored persons, unless they are solemnly bound to quit the country. The abolitionists are told that they must wait till the slaves are more fit for freedom. But if this system is pursued, when are they to be more fit for freedom? Never—never—to the end of time.
Whatever other good the Colonization Society may do, it seems to me evident that they do not produce any beneficial effect on the condition of colored people in America; and indirectly they produce much evil.
In a body so numerous as the Colonization Society, there is, of course, a great variety of character and opinions. I presume that many among them believe the ultimate tendency of the Society to be very different from what it really is. Some slave owners encourage it, because they think it cannot decrease slavery, and will keep back the inconvenient crisis when free labor will be cheaper than slave labor: others of the same class join it because they really want to do some act of kindness to the unfortunate African race, and all the country insists upon it that this is the only way; some politicians in the free States countenance it from similar motives, and because less cautious measures might occasion a loss of Southern votes and influence; the time-serving class—so numerous in every community,—who are always ready to flatter existing prejudices, and sail smoothly along the current of popular favor, join it, of course; but I am willing to believe that the largest proportion belong to it, because they have compassionate hearts, are fearful of injuring their Southern brethren, and really think there is no other way of doing so much good to the negroes. With this last mentioned class, I sympathize in feeling, but differ in opinion.
The Anti-Slavery Society was formed in January, 1832. Its objects are distinctly stated in the second Article of their constitution, which is as follows:
"ART. 2. The objects of the Society shall be, to endeavor, by all means sanctioned by law, humanity and religion, to effect the abolition of slavery in the United States; to improve the character and condition of the free people of color, to inform and correct public opinion in relation to their situation and rights, and obtain for them equal civil and political rights and privileges with the whites."
From this it will be seen that they think it a duty to give colored people all possible means of education, and instead of removing them away from the prejudice, to remove the prejudice away from them.
They lay it down as a maxim that immediate emancipation is the only just course, and the only safe policy. They say that slavery is a common evil, and therefore there is a common right to investigate it, and search for modes of relief. They say that New England shares, and ever has shared, in this national sin, and is therefore bound to atone for the mischief, as far as it can be done.
The strongest reason why the Anti-Slavery Society wish for the emancipation of slaves, is because they think no other course can be pursued which does not, in its very nature, involve a constant violation of the laws of God. In the next place, they believe there is no other sure way of providing for the safety of the white population in the slave States. I know that many of the planters affect to laugh at the idea of fearing their slaves; but why are their laws framed with such cautious vigilance? Why must not negroes of different plantations communicate together? Why are they not allowed to be out in the evening, or to carry even a stick to defend themselves, in case of necessity?
In the Virginia Legislature a gentleman said, "It was high time for something to be done when men did not dare to open their own doors without pistols at their belts;" and Mr. Randolph has publicly declared that a planter was merely "a sentry at his own door."
Mr. Roane of Virginia, asks,—"Is there an intelligent man who
does not know that this excess of slavery
is increasing, and will continue to increase in a ratio which is alarming in the extreme, and must overwhelm our descendants in ruin? Why then should we shut our eyes and turn our backs upon the evil? Will delay render it less gigantic, or give us more Herculean strength to meet and subdue it at future time? Oh, no—delay breeds danger—procrastination is the thief of time, and the refuge of sluggards."
It is very true that insurrection is perfect madness on the part of the slaves; for they are sure to be overpowered. But such madness has happened; and innocent women and children have fallen victims to it.
A few months ago, I was conversing with a very mild and judicious
member of the Anti-Slavery Society, when a gentleman originally from
the South came in. As he was an old acquaintance, and had been a long
time resident in New England, it was not deemed necessary as a matter
of courtesy, to drop the conversation. He soon became excited.
"Whatever you may think, Mrs. Child," said he, "the slaves are a great
deal happier than either of us; the less people know, the more merry
they are." I replied, "I heard you a short time since talking over
your plans for educating your son; if knowledge brings wretchedness,
why do you not keep him in happy ignorance?" "The fashion of the times
requires some information," said he; "but why don't you concern
yourself about the negroes? Why don't you excite the horses to an
insurrection, because they are obliged to work, and are whipped if
they do not?" "One horse does not whip
another," said I; "and besides, I do not wish to promote
insurrections. I would, on the contrary, do all I could to prevent
them." "Perhaps you do not like the comparison between slaves and
horses," rejoined he; "it is true, the horses have the advantage." I
made no reply; for where such ground is assumed, what
can be said; besides, I did not then, and I
do not now, believe that he expressed his real feelings. He was
piqued, and spoke unadvisedly. This gentleman denied that the lot of
the negroes was hard. He said they loved their masters, and their
masters loved them; and in any cases of trouble or illness, a man's
his best friends. I mentioned some undoubted instances of cruelty to slaves; he acknowledged that such instances might very rarely happen, but said that in general the masters were much more to be pitied than the negroes. A lady, who had been in South Carolina when an insurrection was apprehended, related several anecdotes concerning the alarm that prevailed there at the time: and added, "I often wish that none of my friends lived in a slave State." "Why should you be anxious?" rejoined the Southern gentleman; "You know that they have built a strong citadel in the heart of the city, to which all the inhabitants can repair, in case of insurrection." "So," said I, "they have built a citadel to protect them from their happy, contented servants—a citadel against their best friends!" I could not but be amused at the contradictions that occurred during this conversation.
That emancipation has in several instances been effected with safety has been already shown. But allowing that there is some danger in discontinuing slavery, is there not likewise danger in continuing it? In one case, the danger, if there were any, would soon be subdued; In the other, it is continually increasing.
The planter tells us that the slave is very happy, and bids us leave him as he is. If laughter is a sign of happiness, the Irishman, tumbling in the same mire as his pigs, is happy. The merely sensual man is no doubt merry and heedless; but who would call him happy? Is it not a fearful thing to keep immortal beings in a state like beasts? The more the senses are subjected to the moral and intellectual powers, the happier man is,—the more we learn to sacrifice the present to the future, the higher do we rise in the scale of existence. The negro may often enjoy himself, like the dog when he is not beaten, or the hog when he is not starved; but let not this be called happiness.
How far the slave laws are conducive to the enjoyment of those
they govern, each individual can judge for himself. In the Southern
papers, we continually see pictures of runaway negroes, and sometimes
the advertisements identify them by scars, or by letters branded upon
them. Is it natural for men to run away from comfort and happiness, especially when any one who meets them may shoot them, like a dog? and when whipping nearly unto death is authorized as the punishment? I forbear to describe how much more shocking slave whipping is than anything we are accustomed to see bestowed upon cattle.
But the advocates of slavery tell us, that on the negro's own account, it is best to keep him in slavery; that without a master to guide him and take care of him, he is a wretched being; that freedom is the greatest curse that can be bestowed upon him. Then why do their Legislatures grant it as a reward for "meritorious services to the State"? Why do benevolent masters bequeath the legacy of freedom, "in consideration of long and faithful service"? Why did Jefferson so earnestly, and so very humbly request the Legislature of Virginia to ratify the manumission of his five favorite slaves?
Notwithstanding the disadvantageous position of free negroes in a community consisting of whites and slaves, it is evident that, even upon these terms, freedom is considered a blessing.
The Anti-Slavery Society agree with Harriet Martineau in saying, "Patience with the men, but no patience with the principles. As much patience as you please in enlightening those who are unaware of the abuses, but no patience with social crimes"!
The Colonization Society are always reminding us that the master has rights as well as the slave: The Anti-Slavery Society urge us to remember that the slave has rights as well as the master. I leave it for sober sense to determine which of these claims is in the greatest danger of being forgotten.
The abolitionists think it a duty to maintain at all times, and in
all places, that slavery ought to be
abolished, and that it can be abolished.
When error is so often repeated it becomes very important to repeat
the truth; especially as good men are apt to be quiet, and selfish men
prone to be active. They propose no plan—they leave that to the
wisdom of Legislatures.—But they never swerve from the
principle that slavery is
both wicked and unnecessary. Their object is to turn the public voice against this evil, by a plain exposition of facts.
Perhaps it may seem of little use for individuals to maintain any particular principle, while they do not attempt to prescribe the ways and means by which it can be carried into operation: But the voice of the public is mighty, either for good or evil; and that far sounding echo is composed of single voices.
Schiller makes his Fiesco exclaim, "Spread out the thunder into its single tones, and it becomes a lullaby for children; pour it forth in one quick peal, and the royal sound shall move the heavens!"
If the work of abolition must necessarily be slow in its progress, so much the more need of beginning soon, and working vigorously. My life upon it, a safe remedy can be found for this evil, whenever we are sincerely desirous of doing justice for its own sake.
The Anti-Slavery Society is loudly accused of being seditious, fanatical, and likely to promote insurrections. It seems to be supposed, that they wish to send fire and sword into the South, and encourage the slaves to hunt down their masters. Slave owners wish to have it viewed in this light, because they know that the subject they have chosen, will not bear discussion; and men here, who give the tone to public opinion, have loudly repeated the charge—some from good motives and some from bad. I once had a very strong prejudice against anti-slavery;—(I am ashamed to think how strong—for mere prejudice should never be stubborn,) but a candid examination has convinced me, that I was in an error. I made the common mistake of taking things for granted, without stopping to investigate.
This Society do not wish to see any coercive or dangerous measures
pursued. They wish for universal emancipation, because they believe it
is the only way to prevent insurrections.
Almost every individual among them, is a strong friend to Peace
Societies. They wish to move the public mind on this subject, in the
same manner that it has been moved on other subjects: viz. by open,
candid, fearless discussion. This is all they
want to do; and this they are determined to do, because they believe
it to be an important duty. For a long time
past, public sympathy has been earnestly directed in the wrong way; if it could be made to turn round, a most happy change would be produced. There are many people at the South who would be glad to have a safe method of emancipation discovered; but instead of encouraging them, all our presses, and pulpits, and books, and conversation, have been used to strengthen the hands of those who wish to perpetuate the "costly iniquity." Divine Providence always opens the way for the removal of evils, individual or national, whenever man is sincerely willing to have them removed; it may be difficult to do right, but it is never impossible. Yet a majority of my countrymen do, in effect, hold the following language: "We know that this evil cannot be cured; and we will speak and publish our opinion on every occasion; but you must not, for your lives, dare to assert that there is a possibility of our being mistaken."
If there were any apparent wish to get rid of this sin and disgrace, I believe the members of the Anti-Slavery Society would most heartily and courageously defend slave owners from any risk they might incur in a sincere effort to do right. They would teach the negro that it is the Christian's duty meekly and patiently to suffer wrong; but they dare not excuse the white man for continuing to inflict the wrong.
They think it unfair that all arguments on this subject should be sounded on the convenience and safety of the master alone. They wish to see the white man's claims have their due weight; but they resist that the negro's rights ought not to be thrown out of the balance.
At the time a large reward was offered for the capture of Mr.
Garrison, on the ground that his paper excited insurrections, it is a
fact, that he had never sent or caused to be sent, a single paper
south of Mason and Dixon's line. He afterwards
sent papers to some of the leading politicians there; but they of
course were not the ones to promote negro insurrections. "But," it has
been answered, "the papers did find their way there." Are we then
forbidden to publish our opinions upon an important subject, for fear
somebody will send them somewhere?
Is slavery to remain a sealed book in this most communicative of all
ages, and this most inquisitive
of all countries? If so, we live under an actual censorship of the press. This is like what the Irishman said of our paved cities—tying down the stones, and letting the mad dogs run loose.
If insurrections do occur, they will no doubt be attributed to the Anti-Slavery Society. But we must not forget that there were insurrections in the West Indies long before the English abolitionists began their efforts; and that masters were murdered in this country, before the Anti-Slavery Society was thought of. Neither must we forget that the increased severity of the laws is very likely to goad an oppressed people to madness. The very cruelty of the laws against resistance under any circumstances, would be thought to justify a white man in rebellion, because it gives resistance the character of self-defence. "The law," says Blackstone, "respects the passions of the human mind; and when external violence is offered to a man himself, or those to whom he bears a near connexion, makes it lawful in him to do himself that immediate justice, to which he is prompted by nature, and which no prudential motives are strong enough to restrain."
As it respects promoting insurrections by discussing this subject, it should be remembered that it is very rare for any colored person at the South to know how to read or write.
Furthermore, if there be danger in the discussion, our silence cannot arrest it; for the whole world is talking and writing about it;—even children's handkerchiefs seem to be regarded as sparks falling into a powder magazine. How much better it would be not to live in the midst of a powder magazine.
The English abolitionists have labored long and arduously. Every
inch of the ground has been contested.—After obtaining the decision
that negroes brought into England were freemen, it took them
thirty-five years to obtain the abolition of
the slave trade. But their progress, though
slow and difficult, has been certain. They are now on the very eve of
entire, unqualified emancipation in all their colonies. I take very
little interest in politics, unless they bear upon the subject of
slavery;—and then I throw my whole soul into them. Hence the
permanence of Lord Grey's ministry has become an object of intense interest. But all England is acting as one man on this subject, and she must prevail.
The good work has indeed been called by every odious epithet. It was even urged that the abolition of the slave trade would encourage the massacre of white men. Clarkson, who seems to have been the meekest and most patient of men, was stigmatized as an insurrectionist.—It was said he wanted to bring all the horrors of the French Revolution into England, merely because he wanted to abolish the slave trade.—It was said Liverpool and Bristol would sink, never to rise again, if that traffic were destroyed.
The insurrection at Barbadoes, in 1816, was ascribed to the influence of missionaries infected with the wicked philanthropy of the age; but it was discovered that there was no missionary on the island at the time of that event, nor for a long time previous to it. The insurrection at Demerara, several years after, was publicly and angrily ascribed to the Methodist missionaries; they were taken up and imprisoned; and it was lucky for these innocent men, that, out of their twelve hundred black converts, only two had joined the rebellion.
Ridicule and reproach has been abundantly heaped upon the laborers in this righteous cause. Power, wealth, talent, pride, and sophistry, are all in arms against them; but God and truth is on their side. The cause of anti-slavery is rapidly gaining ground. Wise heads as well as warm hearts, are joining in its support. In a few years I believe the opinion of New England will be unanimous in its favor. Maine, which enjoys the enviable distinction of never having had a slave upon her soil, has formed an Anti-Slavery Society composed of her best and most distinguished men. Those who are determined to be on the popular side, should be cautious how they move just now: It is a trying time for such characters, when public opinion is on the verge of a great change.
Men who think upon the subject, are fast
coming to the conclusion that slavery can never be much ameliorated,
while it is allowed to exist. What Mr. Fox said of the
trade is true of the system—"you
may as well try
to regulate murder." It is a disease as deadly as the cancer; and while one particle of it remains in the constitution, no cure can be effected. The relation is unnatural in itself, and therefore it reverses all the rules which are applied to other human relations. Thus a free government, which in every other point of view is a blessing, is a curse to the slave. The liberty around him is contagious, and therefore the laws must be endowed with a tenfold crushing power, or the captive will break his chains. A despotic monarch can follow the impulses of humanity without scruple. When Vidius Pollio ordered one of his slaves to be cut to pieces and thrown into his fish pond, the Emperor Augustus commanded him to emancipate immediately, not only that slave, but all his slaves. In a free State there is no such power; and there would be none needed, if the laws were equal,—but the slave owners are legislators, and make the laws, in which the negro has no voice—the master influences public opinion, but the slave cannot.
Miss Martineau very wisely says; "To attempt to combine freedom and slavery is to put new wine into old skins. Soon may the old skins burst! for we shall never want for better wine than they have ever held."
A work has been lately published, written by Jonathan Dymond, who was a member of the Society of Friends, in England; it is entitled "Essays on the Principles of Morality"—and most excellent Essays they are. Every sentence recognises the principle of sacrificing all selfish considerations to our inward perceptions of duty; and therefore every page shines with the mild but powerful light of true christian philosophy. I rejoice to hear that the book is likely to be republished in this country. In his remarks on slavery the author says: "The supporters of the system will hereafter be regarded with the same public feelings, as he who was an advocate of the slave trade now is. How is it that legislators and public men are so indifferent to their fame? Who would now be willing that biography should record of him,—This man defended the slave trade? The time will come when the record,—This man opposed the abolition of slavery, will occasion a great deduction from the public estimate of weight of character."