CHAPTER VIII. PREJUDICES AGAINST PEOPLE OF COLOR, AND OUR DUTIES IN RELATION TO THIS SUBJECT.
"A negro has a soul, an' please your honor," said the Corporal, (doubtingly.)
WHILE we bestow our earnest disapprobation on the system of slavery, let us not flatter ourselves that we are in reality any better than our brethren of the South. Thanks to our soil and climate, and the early exertions of the Quakers, the form of slavery does not exist among us; but the very spirit of the hateful and mischievous thing is here in all its strength. The manner in which we use what power we have, gives us ample reason to be grateful that the nature of our institutions does not intrust us with more. Our prejudice against colored people is even more inveterate than it is at the South. The planter is often attached to his negroes, and lavishes caresses and kind words upon them, as he would on a favorite hound: but our coldhearted, ignoble prejudice admits of no exception—no intermission.
The Southerners have long continued habit, apparent interest and
dreaded danger, to palliate the wrong they do; but we stand without
excuse. They tell us that Northern ships and Northern capital have
been engaged in this
wicked business; and the reproach is true. Several fortunes in this city have been made by the sale of negro blood. If these criminal transactions are still carried on, they are done in silence and secrecy, because public opinion has made them disgraceful. But if the free States wished to cherish the system of slavery forever, they could not take a more direct course than they now do. Those who are kind and liberal on all other subjects, unite with the selfish and the proud in their unrelenting efforts to keep the colored population in the lowest state of degradation; and the influence they unconsciously exert over children early infuses into their innocent minds the same strong feelings of contempt.
The intelligent and well informed have the least share of this prejudice; and when their minds can be brought to reflect upon it, I have generally observed that they soon cease to have any at all. But such a general apathy prevails and the subject is so seldom brought into view, that few are really aware how oppressively the influence of society is made to bear upon this injured class of the community. When I have related facts, that came under my own observation, I have often been listened to with surprise, which gradually increased to indignation. In order that my readers may not be ignorant of the extent of this tyrannical prejudice, I will as briefly as possible state the evidence, and leave them to judge of it, as their hearts and consciences may dictate.
In the first place, an unjust law exists in this Commonwealth, by
which marriages between persons of different color is pronounced
illegal. I am perfectly aware of the gross ridicule to which I may
subject myself by alluding to this particular; but I have lived too
long, and observed too much, to be disturbed by the world's mockery.
In the first place, the government ought not to be invested with power
to control the affections, any more than the consciences of citizens.
A man has at least as good a right to choose his wife, as he has to
choose his religion. His taste may not suit his neighbors; but so long
as his deportment is correct, they have no right to interfere with his
concerns. In the second place, this law is a useless
disgrace to Massachusetts. Under existing cir-
cumstances, none but those whose condition in life is too low to be much affected by public opinion, will form such alliances; and they, when they choose to do so, will make such marriages, in spite of the law. I know two or three instances where women of the laboring class have been united to reputable, industrious colored men. These husbands regularly bring home their wages, and are kind to their families. If by some of the odd chances, which not unfrequently occur in the world, their wives should become heirs to any property, the children may be wronged out of it, because the law pronounces them illegitimate. And while this injustice exists with regard to honest, industrious individuals, who are merely guilty of differing from us in a matter of taste, neither the legislation nor customs of slave-holding States exert their influence against immoral connexions.
In one portion of our country this fact is shown in a very peculiar and striking manner. There is a numerous class at New Orleans, called Quateroons, or Quadroons, because their colored blood has for several successive generations been intermingled with the white. The women are much distinguished for personal beauty and gracefulness of motion; and their parents frequently send them to France for the advantages of an elegant education. White gentlemen of the first rank are desirous of being invited to their parties, and often become seriously in love with these fascinating but unfortunate beings. Prejudice forbids matrimony, but universal custom sanctions temporary connexions, to which a certain degree of respectability is allowed, on account of the peculiar situation of the parties. These attachments often continue for years—sometimes for life—and instances are not unfrequent of exemplary constancy and great propriety of deportment.
What eloquent vituperations we should pour forth, if the contending claims of nature and pride produced such a tissue of contradictions in some other country, and not in our own!
There is another Massachusetts law, which an enlightened community
would not probably suffer to be carried into execution under any
circumstances; but it still re-
mains to disgrace the statutes of this Commonwealth.—It is as follows:
"No African or Negro, other than a subject of the Emperor of Morocco, or a citizen of the United States, (proved so by a certificate of the Secretary of the State of which he is a citizen,) shall tarry within this Commonwealth longer than two months; and on complaint a justice shall order him to depart in ten days; and if he do not then, the justice may commit such African or Negro to the House of Correction, there to be kept at hard labor; and at the next term of the Court of C. P., he shall be tried, and if convicted of remaining as aforesaid, shall be whipped not exceeding ten lashes; and if he or she shall not then depart such process shall be repeated and punishment inflicted toties quoties." Stat. 1788, Ch. 54.
An honorable Haytian or Brazilian, who visited this country for business or information, might come under this law, unless public opinion rendered it a mere dead letter.
There is among the colored people an increasing desire for
information, and a laudable ambition to be respectable in manners and
appearance. Are we not foolish as well as sinful, in trying to repress
a tendency so salutary to themselves, and so beneficial to the
community? Several individuals of this class are very desirous to have
persons of their own color qualified to teach something more than mere
reading and writing. But in the public schools, colored children are
subject to many discouragements and difficulties; and into the private
schools they cannot gain admission. A very sensible and well-informed
colored woman in a neighboring town, whose family have been brought up
in a manner that excited universal remark and approbation, has been
extremely desirous to obtain for her eldest daughter the advantages of
a private school; but she has been resolutely repulsed, on account of
her complexion. The girl is a very light mulatto, with great modesty
and propriety of manners; perhaps no young person in the Commonwealth
was less likely to have a bad influence on her associates. The
clergyman respected the family, and
he remonstrated with the instructer; but while the latter admitted the injustice of the thing, he excused himself by saying such a step would occasion the loss of all his white scholars.
In a town adjoining Boston, a well-behaved colored boy was kept out of the public school more than a year, by vote of the trustees. His mother, having some information herself, knew the importance of knowledge, and was anxious to obtain it for her family. She wrote repeatedly and urgently; and the school-master himself told me that the correctness of her spelling, and the neatness of her hand-writing formed a curious contrast with the notes he received from many white parents. At last, this spirited woman appeared before the committee, and reminded them that her husband, having for many years paid taxes as a citizen, had a right to the privileges of a citizen; and if her claim were refused, or longer postponed, she declared her determination to seek justice from a higher source. The trustees were, of course, obliged to yield to the equality of the laws, with the best grace they could. The boy was admitted, and made good progress in his studies. Had his mother been too ignorant to know her rights, or too abject to demand them, the lad would have had a fair chance to get a living out of the State as the occupant of a workhouse, or penitentiary.
The attempt to establish a school for African girls at Canterbury,
Connecticut, has made too much noise to need a detailed account in
this volume. I do not know the lady who first formed the project, but
I am told that she is a benevolent and religious woman. It certainly
is difficult to imagine any other motives than good ones, for an
undertaking so arduous and unpopular. Yet had the Pope himself
attempted to establish his supremacy over that commonwealth, he could
hardly have been repelled with more determined and angry
resistance.—Town meetings were held, the records of which are not
highly creditable to the parties concerned. Petitions were sent to the
Legislature, beseeching that no African school might be allowed to
admit individuals not residing in the town where said school was
and strange to relate, this law, which makes it impossible to collect a sufficient number of pupils, was sanctioned by the State. A colored girl, who availed herself of this opportunity to gain instruction, was warned out of town, and fined for not complying; and the instructress was imprisoned for persevering in her benevolent plan.
It is said, in excuse, that Canterbury will be inundated with vicious characters, who will corrupt the morals of the young men; that such a school will break down the distinctions between black and white; and that marriages between people of different colors will be the probable result. Yet they seem to assume the ground that colored people must always be an inferior and degraded class—that the prejudice against them must be eternal; being deeply founded in the laws of God and nature.—Finally, they endeavored to represent the school as one of the incendiary proceedings of the Anti-Slavery Society; and they appeal to the Colonization Society, as an aggrieved child is wont to appeal to its parent.
The objection with regard to the introduction of vicious characters into a village, certainly has some force; but are such persons likely to leave cities for a quiet country town, in search of moral and intellectual improvement? Is it not obvious that the best portion of the colored class are the very ones to prize such an opportunity for instruction? Grant that a large proportion of these unfortunate people are vicious—is it not our duty, and of course our wisest policy, to try to make them otherwise? And what will so effectually elevate their character and condition, as knowledge? I beseech you, my countrymen, think of these things wisely, and in season.
As for intermarriages, if there be such a repugnance between the two races, founded in the laws of nature, methinks there is small reason to dread their frequency.
The breaking down of distinctions in society, by means of extended information, is an objection which appropriately belongs to the Emperor of Austria, or the Sultan of Egypt.
I do not know how the affair at Canterbury is generally
considered; but I have heard individuals of all parties
and all opinions speak of it—and never without merriment or indignation. Fifty years hence, the black laws of Connecticut will be a greater source of amusement to the antiquarian, than her famous blue laws.
A similar, though less violent opposition arose in consequence of the attempt to establish a college for colored people at New Haven. A young colored man, who tried to obtain education at the Wesleyan college in Middletown, was obliged to relinquish the attempt on account of the persecution of his fellow students. Some collegians from the South objected to a colored associate in their recitations; and those from New England promptly and zealously joined in the hue and cry. A small but firm party were in favor of giving the colored man a chance to pursue his studies without insult or interruption; and I am told that this manly and disinterested band were all Southerners. As for those individuals, who exerted their influence to exclude an unoffending fellow-citizen from privileges which ought to be equally open to all, it is to be hoped that age will make them wiser—and that they will learn, before they die, to be ashamed of a step attended with more important results than usually belong to youthful follies.
It happens that these experiments have all been made in Connecticut; but it is no more than justice to that State to remark that a similar spirit would probably have been manifested in Massachusetts, under like circumstances. At our debating clubs and other places of public discussion, the demon of prejudice girds himself for the battle, the moment negro colleges and high schools are alluded to. Alas, while we carry on our lips that religion which teaches us to "love our neighbor as ourselves," how little do we cherish its blessed influence within our hearts! How much republicanism we have to speak of, and how little do we practise!
Let us seriously consider what injury a negro college could
possible do us. It is certainly a fair presumption that the scholars
would be from the better portion of the colored population; and it is
an equally, fair presumption that knowledge would improve their
characters. There are already many hundreds of colored people in the
of Boston.—In the street they generally appear neat and respectable; and in our houses they do not "come between the wind and our nobility." Would the addition of one or two hundred more even be perceived? As for giving offence to the Southerners by allowing such establishments—they have no right to interfere with our internal concerns, any more than we have with theirs.—Why should they not give up slavery to please us, by the same rule that we must refrain from educating the negroes to please them? If they are at liberty to do wrong, we certainly ought to be at liberty to do right. They may talk and publish as much about us as they please; and we ask for no other influence over them.
It is a fact not generally known that the brave Kosciusko left a fund for the establishment of a negro college in the United States. Little did he think he had been fighting for a people, who would not grant one rood of their vast territory for the benevolent purpose!
According to present appearances, a college for colored persons will be established in Canada; and thus, by means of our foolish and wicked pride, the credit of this philanthropic enterprise will be transferred to our mother country.
The preceding chapters show that it has been no uncommon thing for colored men to be educated at English, German, Portuguese and Spanish Universities.
In Boston there is an Infant School, three Primary Schools, and a
Grammar School. The two last, are I believe supported by the public;
and this fact is highly creditable. A building for the colored Grammar
School is not supplied by the city, though such provision is always
made for similar institutions for white boys.—The apartment is close
and uncomfortable, and many pupils stay away, who would gladly attend
under more convenient circumstances. There ought likewise to be a
colored teacher instead of a white one. Under the dominion of existing
prejudices, it is difficult to find a white man, well qualified to
teach such a school, who feels the interest he ought to feel, in these
Pariahs* of our republic.
The parents would repose more confidence in a colored instructer; and he, both from sympathy and pride, would be better fitted for his task.
It is peculiarly incumbent on the city authorities to supply a commodious building for the colored grammar school, because public prejudice excludes these oppressed people from all lucrative employments, and they cannot therefore be supposed to have ample funds of their own.
I was much pleased with the late resolution awarding Franklin medals to the colored pupils of the grammar school; and I was still more pleased with the laudable project, originated by Josiah Holbrook, Esq. for the establishment of a colored Lyceum. Surely a better spirit is beginning to work in this cause; and when once begun, the good sense and good feeling of the community will bid it go on and prosper. How much this spirit will have to contend with is illustrated by the following fact. When President Jackson entered this city, the white children of all the schools were sent out in uniform, to do him honor. A member of the Committee proposed that the pupils of the African schools should be invited likewise; but he was the only one who voted for it. He then proposed that the yeas and nays should be recorded; upon which, most of the gentlemen walked off, to prevent the question from being taken. Perhaps they felt an awkward consciousness of the incongeniality of such proceedings with our republican institutions. By order of the Committee the vacation of the African schools did not commence until the day after the procession of the white pupils; and a note to the instructer intimated that the pupils were not expected to appear on the Common. The reason given was because "their numbers were so few;" but in private conversation, fears were expressed lest their sable faces should give offence to our slave-holding President. In all probability the sight of the colored children would have been agreeable to General Jackson, and seemed more like home, than anything he witnessed.
In the theatre, it is not possible for respectable colored people to obtain a decent seat. They must either be excluded, or herd with the vicious.
A fierce excitement prevailed, not long since, because a colored man had bought a pew in one of our churches. I heard a very kindhearted and zealous democrat declare his opinion that "the fellow ought to be turned out by constables, if he dared to occupy the pew he had purchased." Even at the communion-table, the mockery of human pride is mingled with the worship of Jehovah. Again and again have I seen a solitary negro come up to the altar, meekly and timidly, after all the white communicants had retired. One Episcopal clergyman of this city, forms an honorable exception to this remark. When there is room at the altar, Mr —— often makes a signal to the colored members of his church to kneel beside their white brethren; and once, when two white infants and one colored one were to be baptized, and the parents of the latter bashfully lingered far behind the others, he silently rebuked the unchristian spirit of pride, by first administering the holy ordinance to the little dark-skinned child of God.
An instance of prejudice lately occurred, which I should find it hard to believe, did I not positively know it to be a fact. A gallery pew was purchased in one of our churches for two hundred dollars. A few Sabbaths after, an address was delivered at that church, in favor of the Africans. Some colored people, who very naturally wished to hear the discourse, went into the gallery; probably because they thought they should be deemed less intrusive there than elsewhere. The man who had recently bought a pew, found it occupied by colored people, and indignantly retired with his family. The next day, he purchased a pew in another meeting-house, protesting that nothing would tempt him again to make use of seats, that had been occupied by negroes.
A well known country representative, who makes a very loud noise
about his democracy, once attended the Catholic church. A pious negro
requested him to take off his hat, while he stood in the presence of
the Virgin Mary. The white man rudely shoved him aside, saying, "You
son of an Ethiopian, do you dare to speak to me!" I more than once
heard the hero repeat this story; and he seemed to take peculiar
satisfaction in telling it. Had he
been less ignorant, he would not have chosen "son of an Ethiopian" as an ignoble epithet; to have called the African his own equal would have been abundantly more sarcastic. The same republican dismissed a strong, industrious colored man, who had been employed on the farm during his absence. "I am too great a democrat," quoth he, "to have any body in my house, who don't sit at my table; and I'll be hanged, if I ever eat with the son of an Ethiopian."
Men whose education leaves them less excuse for such illiberality, are yet vulgar enough to join in this ridiculous prejudice. The colored woman, whose daughter has been mentioned as excluded from a private school, was once smuggled into a stage, upon the supposition that she was a white woman, with a sallow complexion. Her manners were modest and prepossessing, and the gentlemen were very polite to her. But when she stopped at her own door, and was handed out by her curly-headed husband, they were at once surprised and angry to find they had been riding with a mulatto—and had, in their ignorance, been really civil to her!
A worthy colored woman, belonging to an adjoining town, wished to come into Boston to attend upon a son, who was ill. She had a trunk with her, and was too feeble to walk. She begged permission to ride in the stage. But the passengers with noble indignation, declared they would get out, if she were allowed to get in. After much entreaty, the driver suffered her to sit by him upon the box. When he entered the city, his comrades began to point and sneer. Not having sufficient moral courage to endure this, he left the poor woman, with her trunk, in the middle of the street, far from the place of her destination; telling her, with an oath, that he would not carry her a step further.
A friend of mine lately wished to have a colored girl admitted
into the stage with her, to take care of her babe. The girl was very
lightly tinged with the sable hue, had handsome Indian features, and
very pleasing manners. It was, however, evident that she was not
white; and therefore the passengers objected to her company. This of
course, produced a good deal of in-
convenience on one side, and mortification on the other. My friend repeated the circumstance to a lady, who, as the daughter and wife of a clergyman, might be supposed to have imbibed some liberality. The lady seemed to think the experiment was very preposterous; but when my friend alluded to the mixed parentage of the girl, she exclaimed, with generous enthusiasm, "Oh, that alters the case, Indians certainly have their rights."
Every year a colored gentleman and scholar is becoming less and less of a rarity—thanks to the existence of the Haytian Republic, and the increasing liberality of the world! Yet if a person of refinement from Hayti, Brazil, or other countries, which we deem less enlightened than our own, should visit us, the very boys of this republic would dog his footsteps with the vulgar outcry of "Nigger! Nigger!" I have known this to be done, from no other provocation than the sight of a colored man with the dress and deportment of a gentleman. Were it not that republicanism, like Christianity, is often perverted from its true spirit by the bad passions of mankind, such things as these would make every honest mind disgusted with the very name of republics.
I am acquainted with a gentleman from Brazil who is shrewd,
enterprising, noble-spirited, and highly respectable in character anti
manners; yet he has experienced almost every species of indignity on
account of his color. Not long since, it became necessary for him to
visit the southern shores of Massachusetts, to settle certain account
connected with his business. His wife was in a feeble state of health,
and the physicians had recommended a voyage. For this reason, he took
passage for her with himself in the steam-boat; and the captain, as it
appears, made no objection to a colored gentleman's money. After
remaining on deck some time, Mrs. —— attempted to pass into the
cabin; but the captain prevented her; saying, "You must go down
forward."—The Brazilian urged that he had paid the customary price,
and therefore his wife and infant had a right to a place in the
ladies' cabin. The captain answered, "Your wife a'n't a lady; she is a
nigger." The forward cabin was occupied by sailors; was entirely
accommodations for women, and admitted the seawater, so that a person could not sit in it comfortably without keeping the feet raised in a chair. The husband stated that his wife's health would not admit of such exposure; to which the captain still replied, "I don't allow any niggers in my cabin." With natural and honest indignation, the Brazilian exclaimed, "You Americans talk about the Poles! You are a great deal more Russian than the Russians." The affair was concluded by placing the colored gentleman and his invalid wife on the shore, and leaving them to provide for themselves as they could. Had the cabin been full, there would have been some excuse; but it was occupied only by two sailors' wives. The same individual sent for a relative in a distant town on account of illness in his family. After staying several weeks, it became necessary for her to return; and he procured a seat for her in the stage. The same ridiculous scene occurred; the passengers were afraid of losing their dignity by riding with a neat, respectable person, whose face was darker than their own. No public vehicle could be obtained, by which a colored citizen could be conveyed to her home; it therefore became absolutely necessary for the gentleman to leave his business and hire a chaise at great expense. Such proceedings are really inexcusable. No authority can be found for them in religion, reason, or the laws.
The Bible informs us that "a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace, Queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasure, came to Jerusalem to worship." Returning in his chariot, he read Esaias, the Prophet; and at his request Philip went up into the chariot and sat with him, explaining the Scriptures. Where should we now find an apostle, who would ride in the same chariot with an Ethiopian!
Will any candid person tell me why respectable colored people
should not be allowed to make use of public conveyances, open to all
who are able and willing to pay for the privilege? Those who enter a
vessel, or a stagecoach, cannot expect to select their companions. If
they can afford to take a carriage or boat for themselves, then, and
then only, they have a right to be exclusive. I
was lately talking with a young gentleman on this subject, who professed to have no prejudice against colored people, except so far as they were ignorant and vulgar; but still he could not tolerate the idea of allowing them to enter stages and steam-boats. "Yet, you allow the same privilege to vulgar and ignorant white men, without a murmur," I replied; "Pray give a good republican reason why a respectable colored citizen should be less favored." For want of a better argument, he said—(pardon me, fastidious reader)—he implied that the presence of colored persons was less agreeable than Otto of Rose, or Eau de Cologne; and this distinction, he urged was made by God himself. I answered, "Whoever takes his chance in a public vehicle, is liable to meet with uncleanly white passengers, whose breath may be redolent with the fumes of American cigars, or American gin. Neither of these articles have a fragrance peculiarly agreeable to nerves of delicate organization. Allowing your argument double the weight it deserves, it is utter nonsense to pretend that the inconvenience in the case I have supposed is not infinitely greater. But what is more to the point, do you dine in a fashionable hotel, do you sail in a fashionable steam-boat, do you sup at a fashionable house, without having negro servants behind your chair. Would they be any more disagreeable, as passengers seated in the corner of a stage, or a steam-boat, than as waiters in such immediate attendance upon your person?"
Stage-drivers are very much perplexed when they attempt to vindicate the present tyrannical customs; and they usually give up the point, by saying they themselves have no prejudice against colored people—they are merely afraid of the public. But stage-drivers should remember that in a popular government, they, in common with every other citizen, form a part and portion of the dreaded public.
The gold was never coined for which I would barter my individual
freedom of acting and thinking upon any subject, or knowingly
interfere with the rights of the meanest human being. The only true
courage is that which impels us to do right without regard to
ces. To fear a populace is as servile as to fear an emperor. The only salutary restraint is the fear of doing wrong.
Our representatives to Congress have repeatedly rode in a stage with colored servants at the request of their masters. Whether this is because New Englanders are willing to do out of courtesy to a Southern gentleman, what they object to doing from justice to a colored citizen,—or whether those representatives, being educated men, were more than usually divested of this absurd prejudice,—I will not pretend to say.
The state of public feeling not only makes it difficult for the
Africans to obtain information, but it prevents them from making
profitable use of what knowledge they have. A colored man, however
intelligent, is not allowed to pursue any business more lucrative than
that of a barber, a shoe-black, or a waiter. These, and all other
employments, are truly respectable, whenever the duties connected with
them are faithfully performed; but it is unjust that a man should, on
account of his complexion, be prevented from performing more elevated
uses in society. Every citizen ought to have a fair chance to try his
fortune in any line of business, which he thinks he has ability to
transact. Why should not colored men be employed in the manufactories
of various kinds? If their ignorance is an objection, let them be
enlightened, as speedily as possible. If their moral character is not
sufficiently pure, remove the pressure of public scorn, and thus
supply them with motives for being respectable. All this can be done.
It merely requires an earnest wish to overcome a prejudice, which has
"grown with our growth and strengthened with our strength," but which
is in fact opposed to the spirit of our religion, and contrary to the
instinctive good feelings of our nature. When examined by the clear
light of reason, it disappears. Prejudices of all kinds have their
strongest holds in the minds of the vulgar and the ignorant. In a
community so enlightened as our own, they must gradually melt away
under the influence of public discussion. There is no want of kind
feelings and liberal sentiments in the American people; the sim-
ple fact is, they have not thought upon this subject.—An active and enterprising community are not apt to concern themselves about laws and customs, which do not obviously interfere with their interests or convenience; and various political and prudential motives have combined to fetter free inquiry in this direction. Thus we have gone on, year after year, thoughtlessly sanctioning, by our silence and indifference, evils which our hearts and consciences are far enough from approving.
It has been shown that no other people on earth indulge so strong a prejudice with regard to color, as we do. It is urged that negroes are civilly treated in England, because their numbers are so few. I could never discover any great force in this argument. Colored people are certainly not sufficiently rare in that country to be regarded as a great show, like a giraffe, or a Sandwich Island king; and on the other hand, it would seem natural that those who were more accustomed to the sight of dark faces would find their aversion diminished, rather than increased.
The absence of prejudice in the Portuguese and Spanish settlements is accounted for, by saying that the white people are very little superior to the negroes in knowledge and refinement. But Doctor Walsh's book certainly gives us no reason to think meanly of the Brazilians; and it has been my good fortune to be acquainted with many highly intelligent South Americans, who were divested of this prejudice, and much surprised at its existence here.
If the South Americans are really in such a low state as the argument implies, it is a still greater disgrace to us to be outdone in liberality and consistent republicanism by men so much less enlightened than ourselves.
Pride will doubtless hold out with strength and adroitness against the besiegers of its fortress; but it is an obvious truth that the condition of the world is rapidly improving, and that our laws and customs must change with it.
Neither ancient nor modern history furnishes a page more glorious
than the last twenty years in England; for at every step, free
principles, after a long and arduous
struggle, have conquered selfishness and tyranny. Almost all great evils are resisted by individuals who directly suffer injustice or inconvenience from them; but it is a peculiar beauty of the abolition cause that its defenders enter the lists against wealth, and power, and talent, not to defend their own rights, but to protect weak and injured neighbors, who are not allowed to speak for themselves.
Those, who become interested in a cause laboring so heavily under the pressure of present unpopularity, must expect to be assailed by every form of bitterness and sophistry. At times, discouraged and heart-sick, they will perhaps begin to doubt whether there are in reality any unalterable principles of right and wrong. But let there cast aside the fear of man, and keep their minds fixed on a few of the simple, unchangeable laws of God, and they will certainly receive strength to contend with the adversary.
Paragraphs in the Southern papers already begin to imply that the United States will not look tamely on, while England emancipates her slaves; and they inform us that the inspection of the naval stations has become a subject of great importance since the recent measures of the British Parliament. A republic declaring war with a monarchy, because she gave freedom to her slaves, would indeed form a beautiful moral picture for the admiration of the world!
Mr. Garrison was the first person who dared to edit a newspaper,
in which slavery was spoken of as altogether wicked and inexcusable.
For this crime the Legislature of Georgia have offered five thousand
dollars to any one who will "arrest and prosecute him to conviction
under the laws of that State." An association
of gentlemen in South Carolina have likewise offered a large reward
for the same object. It is, to say the least, a very remarkable step
for one State in this Union to promulgate such a law concerning a
citizen of another State, merely for publishing his opinions boldly.
The disciples of Fanny Wright promulgate the most zealous and virulent
attacks upon Christianity, without any hindrance from the civil
authorities; and this is done upon the
truly rational ground that individual freedom of opinion ought to be respected—that what is false cannot stand, and what is true cannot be overthrown. We leave Christianity to take care of itself; but slavery is a "delicate subject,"—and whoever attacks that must be punished. Mr Garrison is a disinterested, intelligent, and remarkably pure-minded man, whose only fault is that he cannot be moderate on a subject which it is exceedingly difficult for an honest mind to examine with calmness. Many, who highly respect his character, and motives, regret his tendency to use wholesale and unqualified expressions; but it is something to have the truth told, even if it be not in the most judicious way. Where an evil is powerfully supported by the self-interest and prejudice of the community, none but an ardent individual will venture to meddle with it. Luther was deemed indiscreet even by those who liked him best; yet a more prudent man would never have given an impetus sufficiently powerful to heave the great mass of corruption under which the church was buried. Mr Garrison has certainly the merit of having first called public attention to a neglected and very important subject. I believe whoever fairly and dispassionately examines the question, will be more than disposed to forgive the occasional faults of an ardent temperament, in consideration of the difficulty of the undertaking, and the violence with which it has been opposed.
The palliator of slavery assures the abolitionists that their
benevolence is perfectly quixotic—that the negroes are happy and
contented, and have no desire to change their lot. An answer to this
may, as I have already said, be found in the Judicial Reports of
slaveholding States, in the vigilance of their laws, in advertisements
for runaway slaves, and in the details of their own newspapers. The
West India planters make the same protestations concerning the
happiness of their slaves; yet the cruelties proved by undoubted and
unanswerable testimony are enough to break a compassionate heart. It
is said that slavery is a great deal worse in the West Indies than in
the United States; but I believe precisely the reverse of this
proposition has been true within late years; for the English
government have been earnestly trying to
atone for their guilt, by the introduction of laws expressly framed to guard the weak and defenceless. A gentleman who has been a great deal among the planters of both countries, and who is by no means favorable to anti-slavery, gives it as his decided opinion that the slaves are better off in the West Indies, than they are in the United States. It is true we hear a great deal more about West Indian cruelty than we do about our own.—English books and periodicals are continually full of the subject; and even in the colonies, newspapers openly denounce the hateful system, and take every opportunity to prove the amount of wretchedness it produces. In this country, we have not, until very recently, dared to publish anything upon the subject. Our books, our reviews, our newspapers, our almanacs, have all been silent, or exerted their influence on the wrong side. The negro's crimes are repeated, but his sufferings are never told. Even in our geographies it is taught that the colored race must always be degraded. Now and then anecdotes of cruelties committed in the slave-holding States are told by individuals who witnessed them; but they are almost always afraid to give their names to the public, because the Southerners will call them "a disgrace to the soil," and the Northerners will echo the sentiment.—The promptitude and earnestness with which New England has aided the slave-holders in repressing all discussions which they were desirous to avoid, has called forth many expressions of gratitude in their public speeches, and private conversation; and truly we have well earned Randolph's favorite appellation, "the white slaves of the North," by our tameness and servility with regard to a subject where good feeling and good principle alike demanded a firm and independent spirit.
We are told that the Southerners will of themselves do away slavery, and they alone understand how to do it.—But it is an obvious fact that all their measures have tended to perpetuate the system; and even if we have the fullest faith that they mean to do their duty, the belief by no means absolves us from doing ours. The evil is gigantic; and its removal requires every heart and head in the community.
It is said that our sympathies ought to be given to the masters, who are abundantly more to be pitied than the slaves. If this be the case, the planters are singularly disinterested not to change places with their bondmen. Our sympathies have been given to the masters—and to those masters who seemed most desirous to remain forever in their pitiable condition. There are hearts at the South sincerely desirous of doing right in this cause; but their generous impulses are checked by the laws of their respective States, and the strong disapprobation of their neighbors. I know a lady in Georgia, who would, I believe, make any personal sacrifice to instruct her slaves, and give them freedom; but if she were found guilty of teaching the alphabet, or manumitting her slaves, fines and imprisonment would be the consequence; if she sold them, they would be likely to fall into hands less merciful than her own. Of such slave-owners we cannot speak with too much respect and tenderness. They are comparatively few in number, and stand in a most perplexing situation; it is a duty to give all our sympathy to them. It is mere mockery to say, what is so often said, that the Southerners, as a body, really wish to abolish slavery. If they wished it, they certainly would make the attempt. When the majority heartily desire a change, it is effected, be the difficulties what they may. The Americans are peculiarly responsible for the example they give; for in no other country does the unchecked voice of the people constitute the whole of government.
We must not be induced to excuse slavery by the plausible argument that England introduced it among us.—The wickedness of beginning such a work unquestionably belongs to her; the sin of continuing it is certainly our own. It is true that Virginia, while a province, did petition the British government to check the introduction of slaves into the colonies; and their refusal to do so was afterward enumerated among the public reasons for separating from the mother country: but it is equally true that when we became independent, the Southern States stipulated that the slave trade should not be abolished by law until 1808.
The strongest and best reason that can be given for
our supineness on the subject of slavery, is the fear of dissolving the Union. The Constitution of the United States demands our highest reverence. Those who approve, and those who disapprove of particular portions, are equally bound to yield implicit obedience to its authority. But we must not forget that the Constitution provides for any change that may be required for the general good. The great machine is constructed with a safety valve, by which any rapidly increasing evil may be expelled whenever the people desire it.
If the Southern politicians are determined to make a Siamese question of this also—if they insist that the Union shall not exist without slavery—it can only be said that they join two things, which have no affinity with each other, and which cannot permanently exist together.—They chain the living and vigorous to the diseased and dying; and the former will assuredly perish in the infected neighborhood.
The universal introduction of free labor is the surest way to consolidate the Union, and enable us to live together in harmony and peace. If a history is ever written entitled "The Decay and Dissolution of the North American Republic," its author will distinctly trace our downfall to the existence of slavery among us.
There is hardly anything bad, in politics or religion, that has not been sanctioned or tolerated by a suffering community, because certain powerful individuals were able to identify the evil with some other principle long consecrated to the hearts and consciences of men.
Under all circumstances, there is but one honest course; and that is to do right, and trust the consequences to Divine Providence. "Duties are ours; events are God's." Policy, with all her cunning, can devise no rule so safe, salutary, and effective, as this simple maxim.
We cannot too cautiously examine arguments and excuses brought
forward by those whose interest or convenience is connected with
keeping their fellow creatures in a state of ignorance and brutality;
and such we shall find in abundance, at the North as well as the
South. I have heard the abolition of slavery condemned on the ground
that New England vessels would not be
employed to export the produce of the South, if they had free laborers of their own. This objection is so utterly bad in its spirit, that it hardly deserves an answer. Assuredly it is a righteous plan to retard the progress of liberal principles, and "keep human nature forever in the stocks" that some individuals may make a few hundred dollars more per annum! Besides, the experience of the world abundantly proves that all such forced expedients are unwise. The increased prosperity of one country, or of one section of a country, always contributes, in some form or other, to the prosperity of other states.—To "love our neighbor as ourselves" is, after all, the shrewdest way of doing business.
In England, the abolition of the traffic was long and stoutly resisted, in the same spirit, and by the same arguments, that characterize the defence of the system here; but it would now be difficult to find a man so reckless, that he would not be ashamed of being called a slave dealer. Public opinion has nearly conquered one evil, and if rightly directed, it will ultimately subdue the other.
Is it asked what can be done? I answer, much, very much, can be effected, if each individual will try to deserve the commendation bestowed by our Saviour on the woman of old—"She hath done what she could."
The Friends,—always remarkable for fearless obedience to the inward light of conscience,—early gave an example worthy of being followed. At their annual meeting in Pennsylvania, in 1688, many individuals urged the incompatibility of slavery and Christianity; and their zeal continued until, in 1776, all Quakers who bought or sold a slave, or refused to emancipate those they already owned, were excluded from communion with the society. Had it not been for the early exertions of these excellent people, the fair and flourishing State of Pennsylvania might now, perchance, be withering under the effects of slavery. To this day, the Society of Friends, both in England and America, omit no opportunity, public or private, of discountenancing this bad system; and the Methodists (at least in England) have earnestly labored in the same glorious cause.
The famous Anthony Benezet, a Quaker in Philadelphia, has left us a noble example of what may be done for conscience's sake. Being a teacher, he took effectual care that his scholars should have ample knowledge and Christian impressions concerning the nature of slavery; he caused articles to be inserted in the almanacs likely to arrest public attention upon the subject; he talked about it, and wrote letters about it; he published and distributed tracts at his own expense; if any person was going a journey, his first thought was how he could make him instrumental in favor of his benevolent purposes; he addressed a petition to the Queen for the suppression of the slave-trade; and another to the good Countess of Huntingdon beseeching that the rice and indigo plantations belonging to the orphan-house, which she had endowed near Savannah, in Georgia, might not be cultivated by those who encouraged the slave trade; he took care to increase the comforts and elevate the character of the colored people within his influence; he zealously promoted the establishment of an African school, and devoted much of the two last years of his life to personal attendance upon his pupils. By fifty years of constant industry he had amassed a small fortune; and this was left, after the decease of his widow, to the support of the African school.
Similar exertions, though on a less extensive scale, were made by the late excellent John Kenrick, of Newton, Mass. For more than thirty years the constant object of his thoughts, and the chief purpose of his life, was the abolition of slavery. His earnest conversation aroused many other minds to think and act upon the subject. He wrote letters, inserted articles in the newspapers, gave liberal donations, and circulated pamphlets at his own expense.
Cowper contributed much to the cause when he wrote the "Negro's
Complaint," and thus excited the compassion of his numerous readers.
Wedgewood aided the work, when he caused cameos to be struck,
representing a kneeling African in chains, and thus made even
capricious fashion an avenue to the heart. Clarkson assisted by
patient investigation of evidence; and Fox and Wil-
berforce by eloquent speeches. Mungo Park gave his powerful influence by the kind and liberal manner in which he always represented the Africans. The Duchess of Devonshire wrote verses and caused them to be set to music; and wherever those lines were sung, some hearts were touched in favor of the oppressed. This fascinating woman made even her far-famed beauty serve in the cause of benevolence. Fox was returned for Parliament through her influence, and she is said to have procured more than one vote, by allowing the yeomanry of England to kiss her beautiful cheek.
All are not able to do so much as Anthony Benezet and John Kenrick have done; but we can all do something. We can speak kindly and respectfully of colored people upon all occasions; we can repeat to our children such traits as are honorable in their character and history; we can avoid making odious caricatures of negroes; we can teach boys that it is unmanly and contemptible to insult an unfortunate class of people by the vulgar outcry of "Nigger!—Nigger!"—Even Mahmoud of Turkey rivals us in liberality—for he long ago ordered a fine to be levied upon those who called a Christian a dog; and in his dominions the prejudice is so great that a Christian must be a degraded being. A residence in Turkey might be profitable to those Christians who patronize the eternity of prejudice; it would afford an opportunity of testing the goodness of the rule, by showing how it works both ways.
If we are not able to contribute to African schools, or do not choose to do so, we can at least refrain from opposing them. If it be disagreeable to allow colored people the same rights and privileges as other citizens, we can do with our prejudice, what most of us often do with better feelings—we can conceal it.
Our almanacs and newspapers can fairly show both sides of the question; and if they lean to either party, let it not be to the strongest. Our preachers can speak of slavery, as they do of other evils. Our poets can find in this subject abundant room for sentiment and pathos. Our orators (provided they do not want office) may venture an allusion to our in-"glorious institutions."
The union of individual influence produces a vast amount of moral force, which is not the less powerful because it is often unperceived. A mere change in the direction of our efforts, without any increased exertion, would in the course of a few years, produce an entire revolution of public feeling. This slow but sure way of doing good is almost the only means by which benevolence can effect its purpose.
Sixty thousand petitions have been addressed to the English parliament on the subject of slavery, and a large number of them were signed by women. The same steps here would be, with one exception, useless and injudicious; because the general government has no control over the legislatures of individual States. But the District of Columbia forms an exception to this rule.—There the United States have power to abolish slavery; and it is the duty of the citizens to petition year after year, until a reformation is effected. But who will present remonstrances against slavery? The Hon. John Q. Adams was intrusted with fifteen petitions for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia; yet, clearly as that gentleman sees and defines the pernicious effects of the system, he offered the petitions only to protest against them! Another petition to the same effect, intrusted to another Massachusetts representative, was never noticed at all. "Brutus is an honorable man:—So are they all—all honorable men." Nevertheless, there is, in this popular government, a subject on which it is impossible for the people to make themselves heard.
By publishing this book I have put my mite into the treasury. The expectation of displeasing all classes has not been unaccompanied with pain. But it has been strongly impressed upon my mind that it was a duty to fulfil this task; and earthly considerations should never stifle the voice of conscience.