Exposure of the American Colonization Society
Extracted from a pamphlet, published in 1832, entitled 'THOUGHTS ON AFRICAN COLONIZATION: or an Impartial Exhibition of the Doctrines, Principles and Purposes of the American Colonization Society. Together with the Resolutions, Addresses and Remonstrances of the Free People of Color. By WILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON.'
IN attacking the system of slavery, I clearly foresaw all that has happened to me. I knew, at the commencement, that my motives would be impeached, my warnings ridiculed, my person persecuted, my sanity doubted, my life jeoparded: but the clank of the prisoner's chains broke upon my ear—it entered deeply into my soul—I looked up to Heaven for strength to sustain me in the perilous work of emancipation—and my resolution was taken.
In opposing the American Colonization Society, I have also counted
the cost, and as clearly foreseen the formidable opposition which will
be arrayed against me. Many of the clergy are enlisted in its support:
their influence is powerful. Men of wealth and elevated station are
among its contributors: wealth and station are almost omnipotent. The
press has been seduced into its support: the press is a potent engine.
Moreover, the Society is artfully based upon and defended by popular
prejudice; it takes advantage
of wicked and preposterous opinions, and hence its success. These things grieve, they cannot deter me. 'Truth is mighty, and will prevail.' It is able to make falsehood blush, tear from hypocrisy its mask, annihilate prejudice, overthrow persecution, and break every fetter.
I am constrained to declare, with the utmost sincerity, that I look upon the Colonization scheme as inadequate in its design, injurious in its operation, and contrary to sound principle; and the more scrupulously I examine its pretensions, the stronger is my conviction of its sinfulness. Nay, were Jehovah to speak in an audible voice from his holy habitation, I am persuaded that his language would be, 'Who hath required this at your hands?'
It consoles me to believe that no man, who knows me personally or
by reputation, will suspect the honesty of my skepticism. If I were
politic, and intent only on my own preferment or pecuniary interest, I
should swim with the strong tide of public sentiment, instead of
breasting its powerful influence. The hazard is too great, the labor
too burdensome, the remuneration too uncertain, the contest too
unequal, to induce a selfish adventurer to assail a combination so
formidable. Disinterested opposition and sincere conviction, however,
are not conclusive proofs of individual rectitude; for a man may very
honestly do mischief, and not be aware of his error. Indeed, it is in
this light I view many of the friends of African colonization. I
concede to them benevolence of purpose and expansiveness of heart;
but, in my opinion, they are laboring under the same delusion as that
which swayed Saul of Tarsus—persecuting the blacks even unto a
strange country, and verily believing that they are doing God service.
I blame them, nevertheless, for taking this mighty scheme upon trust;
for not perceiving and rejecting the monstrous doctrines avowed by the
master spirits in this crusade; and for feeling so indifferent
to the moral, political and social advancement of the free people of color in this, their only legitimate home.
In the progress of this discussion, I shall have occasion to use very plain, and sometimes very severe language. This would be an unpleasant task, did not duty imperiously demand its application. To give offence I am loath, but more to hide or modify the truth. I shall deal with the Society in its collective form—as one body—and not with individuals. While I shall be necessitated to marshal individual opinions in review, I protest, ab origine, against the supposition, that indiscriminate censure is intended, or that every friend of the Society cherishes similar views. He to whom my reprehension does not apply, will not receive it. It is obviously impossible, in attacking a numerous and multiform combination, to exhibit private dissimilarities, or in every instance to discriminate between the various shades of opinion. It is sufficient that exceptions are made. My warfare is against the AMERICAN COLONIZATION SOCIETY. If I shall identify its general, preponderating, and clearly developed traits, it must stand or fall as they shall prove benevolent or selfish.
I bring to this momentous investigation an unbiased mind, a lively sense of accountability to God, and devout aspirations for divine guidance.
It is only about two years since I was induced to examine the
claims of the Colonization Society upon the patronage and confidence
of the nation. I went to this examination with a mind biased by
preconceived opinions favorable to the Society, and rather for the
purpose of defending it against opposition than of bringing it into
disrepute. Every thing, apart from its principles, was calculated to
secure my friendship. Nothing but its revolting features could have
induced me to turn loathingly away from its embrace. I had some little
reputation to sustain; many of my friends
were colonizationists; I saw that eminent statesmen and honorable men were enlisted in the enterprise; the great body of the clergy gave their unqualified support to it; every Fourth of July, the charities of the nation were secured in its behalf; wherever I turned my eye in the free States, I saw nothing but unanimity; wherever my ear caught a sound, I heard nothing but excessive panegyric. No individual had ventured to blow the trumpet of alarm, or exert his energies to counteract the influence of the scheme. If an assailant had occasionally appeared, he had either fired a random shot and retreated, or found in the inefficiency of the Society the only cause for hostility. It was at this crisis, and with such an array of motives before me to bias my judgment, that I resolved to make a close and candid examination of the subject.
I went, first of all, to the fountain head—to the African Repository and the Reports of the Society. I was not long in discovering sentiments which seemed to me as abhorrent to humanity as contrary to reason. I perused page after page, first with perplexity, then with astonishment, and finally with indignation. I found little else than sinful palliations, fatal concessions, vain expectations, exaggerated statements, unfriendly representations, glaring contradictions, naked terrors, deceptive assurances, unrelenting prejudices, and unchristian denunciations. I collected together the publications of auxiliary societies, in order to discern some redeeming traits; but I found them marred and disfigured with the same disgusting details. I courted the acquaintance of eminent colonizationists, that I might learn how far their private sentiments agreed with those which were so offensive in print; and I found no dissimilarity between them. I listened to discourses from the pulpit in favor of the Society; and the same moral obliquities were seen in minister and people.
These discoveries affected my mind so deeply that I could not
rest. I endeavored to explain away the meaning of plain and obvious
language; I made liberal concessions for good motives and unsuspicious
confidence; I resorted to many expedients to vindicate the
disinterested benevolence of the Society; but I could not rest. The
sun in its mid-day splendor was not more clear and palpable to my
vision, than the anti-christian and anti-republican character of this
association. It was evident to me that the great mass of its
supporters at the North did not realize its dangerous tendency. They
were told that it was designed to effect the ultimate emancipation of
the slaves—to improve the condition of the free people of color—to
abolish the foreign slave trade—to reclaim and evangelize benighted
Africa—and various other marvels. Anxious to do something for the
colored population—they knew not what—and having no other plan
presented to their view, they eagerly embraced a scheme which was so
big with promise, and which required of them nothing but a small
contribution annually. Perceiving the fatality of this delusion, I was
urged by an irresistible impulse to attempt its removal. I could not
turn a deaf ear to the cries of the slaves, nor throw off the
obligations which my Creator had fastened upon me. Yet, in view of the
inequalities of the contest, of the obstacles which towered like
mountains in my path, and of my own littleness, I trembled, and
exclaimed in the language of Jeremiah,—'Ah, Lord God! behold I cannot
speak: for I am a child.' But I was immediately strengthened by these
interrogations: 'Is any thing too hard for the Lord?' Is Error, though
unwittingly supported by a host of good men, stronger than Truth? Are
Right and Wrong convertible terms, dependant upon popular opinion? Oh,
no! Then I will go forward in the strength of the Lord of hosts—in
the name of Truth—and under the banner of Right. As it is not by
power, but by the Spirit of God, that great moral changes are effected, I am encouraged to fight valiantly in this good cause, believing that I shall 'come off conqueror'—yet not I, but Truth and Justice. It is in such a contest that one shall chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight. 'The Lord disappointeth the devices of the crafty, so that their hands cannot perform their enterprise. He taketh the wise in their own craftiness; and the counsel of the froward is carried headlong.' 'Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.'
Probably I may be interrogated by individuals,—'Why do you object to a colony in Africa? Are you not willing people should choose their own places of residence? And if the blacks are willing to remove, why throw obstacles in their path, or deprecate their withdrawal? All go voluntarily: of what, then, do you complain? Is not the colony at Liberia in a flourishing condition, and expanding beyond the most sanguine expectations of its founders?'
Pertinent questions deserve pertinent answers. I say, then, in reply, that I do not object to a colony, in the abstract—to use the popular phraseology of the day. In other words, I am entirely willing men should be as free as the birds in choosing the time when, the mode how, and the place to which they shall migrate. The power of locomotion was given to be used at will: as beings of intelligence and enterprise,
'The world is all before them, where to choose
The emigration from New-England to the far West is constant and
large. Almost every city, town or village suffers annually by the
departure of some of its adventurous inhabitants. Companies have been
formed to go and possess the Oregon territory—an enterprise hazardous
in the extreme. The old States are distributing their population over the whole continent, with unexampled fruitfulness and liberality. But why this restless, roving, unsatisfied disposition? Is it because those who cherish it are treated as the offscouring of all flesh, in the place of their birth? or because they do not possess equal rights and privileges with other citizens? or because they are the victims of incorrigible hate and prejudice? or because they are told that they must choose between exilement and perpetual degradation? or because the density of population renders it impossible for them to obtain preferment and competence here? or because they are estranged by oppression and scorn? or because they cherish no attachment to their native soil, to the scenes of their childhood and youth, or to the institutions of government? or because they consider themselves as dwellers in a strange land, and feel a burning desire, a feverish longing to return home? No. They lie under no odious disabilities, whether imposed by public opinion or by legislative power; to them the path of preferment is wide open ; they sustain a solid and honorable reputation; they not only can rise, but have risen, and may soar still higher, to responsible stations and affluent circumstances; no calamity afflicts, no burden depresses, no reproach excludes, no despondency enfeebles them; and they love the spot of their nativity almost to idolatry. The air of heaven is not freer or more buoyant than they. Theirs is a spirit of curiosity and adventurous enterprise, impelled by no malignant influences, but by the spontaneous promptings of the mind. Far different is the case of our colored population. Their voluntary banishment is compulsory—they are 'forced to turn volunteers'—as will be shown in other parts of this work.
The following proposition is self-evident: The success of an
enterprise furnishes no proof that it is in accordance with justice,
or that it meets the approbation of God, or that
it ought to be prosecuted to its consummation, or that it is the fruit of disinterested benevolence.
I do not doubt that the Colony at Liberia, by a prodigal expenditure of life and money, will ultimately flourish; but a good result can never hallow or atone for persecution.
The doctrine, that the 'end sanctifies the means,' belongs, I trust, exclusively to the creed of the Jesuits. If I were sure that the Society would accomplish the entire regeneration of Africa by its present measures, my detestation of its principles would not abate one jot, nor would I bestow upon it the smallest modicum of praise. Never shall the fruits of the mercy and overruling providence of God,—ever bringing good out of evil, and light out of darkness,—be ascribed to the prejudice or tyranny of man.
It is certain that many a poor native African has been led to
embrace the gospel, in consequence of his transportation to our
shores, who else had lived and died a heathen. Is the slave trade
therefore a blessing? Suppose one of those wretches, who are engaged
in this nefarious commerce, were brought before the Supreme Court, and
on being convicted, should be asked by the Judge, whether he had aught
to say why sentence of death should not be pronounced upon him. And
suppose the culprit should espy some of his sable victims in court,
whom he knew had made a profession of faith, and he should boldly
reply—'May it please your Honor, I abducted these people away from
their homes, it is true; but they were poor, miserable, benighted
idolators, and must have inevitably remained as such unto the hour of
their death, if I had not brought them to this land of Christianity
and Bibles, where they have been taught a knowledge of the true God,
and are now rejoicing in hope of a glorious immortality. I therefore
offer as a conclusive reason why sentence should not be pronounced,
that I have rescued souls from perdition.'
Would the villain be acquitted, and, instead of
a halter, receive the panegyric of the Court for his conduct?
Let not, then, any imaginary or real prosperity of the settlement at Liberia lead any individual to applaud the Colonization Society, reckless whether it be actuated by mistaken philanthropy, or perverted generosity, or selfish policy, or unchristian prejudice.
I should oppose this Society, even were its doctrines harmless. It
imperatively and effectually seals the lips of a vast number of
influential and pious men, who, for fear of giving offence to those
slaveholders with whom they associate, and thereby leading to a
dissolution of the compact, dare not expose the flagrant enormities of
the system of slavery, nor denounce the crime of holding human beings
in bondage. They dare not lead to the onset against the forces of
tyranny; and if they shrink from the conflict, how shall the victory
be won? I do not mean to aver, that, in their sermons, or addresses,
or private conversations, they never allude to the subject of slavery;
for they do so frequently, or at least every Fourth of July. But my
complaint is, that they content themselves with representing slavery
as an evil,—a misfortune,—a calamity which has been entailed upon
us by former generations,—and not as an
individual CRIME, embracing in its folds
robbery, cruelty, oppression and piracy. They do not identify the
criminals; they make no direct, pungent, earnest appeal to the
consciences of men-stealers; by consenting to walk arm-in-arm with
them, they virtually agree to abstain from all offensive remarks, and
to aim entirely at the expulsion of the free people of color; their
lugubrious exclamations, and solemn animadversions, and reproachful
reflections, are altogether indefinite; they 'go about, and about, and
all the way round to nothing;' they generalize, they shoot into the
air, they do not disturb the repose nor wound the complacency of the
have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they shewed difference between the unclean and the clean.' Thus has free inquiry been suppressed, and a universal fear created, and the tongue of the boldest silenced, and the sleep of death fastened upon the nation. 'Truth has fallen in the streets, and equity cannot enter.' The plague is raging with unwonted fatality; but no cordon sanitaire is established—no adequate remedy sought. The tide of moral death is constantly rising and widening; but no efforts are made to stay its desolating career. The fire of God's indignation is kindling against us, and thick darkness covers the heavens, and the hour of retribution is at hand; but we are obstinate in our transgression, we refuse to repent, we impiously throw the burden of our guilt upon our predecessors, we affect resignation to our unfortunate lot, we descant upon the mysterious dispensations of Providence, and we deem ourselves objects of God's compassion rather than of his displeasure!
Were the American Colonization Society bending its energies directly to the immediate abolition of slavery; seeking to enlighten and consolidate public opinion, on this momentous subject; faithfully exposing the awful guilt of the owners of slaves; manfully contending for the bestowal of equal rights upon our free colored population in this their native land; assiduously endeavoring to uproot the prejudices of society; and holding no fellowship with oppressors; my opposition to it would cease. It might continue, without censure, to bestow its charities upon such as spontaneously desire to remove to Africa, whether animated by religious considerations, or the hope of bettering their temporal condition. But, alas! its governing spirit and purpose are of an opposite character.
The popularity of the Society is not attributable to its merits,
but exclusively to its congeniality with those unchris-
tian prejudices which have so long been cherished against a sable complexion. It is agreeable to slaveholders, because it is striving to remove a class of persons who they fear may stir up their slaves to rebellion. All who avow undying hostility to the people of color are in favor of it; all who shrink from acknowledging them as brethren and friends, or who make them a distinct and inferior caste, or who deny the possibility of elevating them in the scale of improvement here, most heartily embrace it.
To Africa this country owes a debt larger than she is able to
liquidate. Most intensely do I desire to see that ill-fated continent
transformed into the abode of civilization, of the arts and sciences,
of true religion, of liberty, and of all that adds to the dignity, the
renown, and the temporal and eternal happiness of man. Shame and
confusion of face belong to the Church, that she has so long
disregarded the claims of Africa upon her sympathies, prayers, and
liberality—claims as much superior as its wrongs to those of any
other portion of the globe. It is indeed most strange, that, like the
Priest and the Levite, she should have 'passed by on the other side,'
and left the victim of thieves to bleed and sicken and die. As the
Africans were the only people doomed to perpetual servitude, and to be
the prey of kidnappers, she should long since have directed almost her
undivided efforts to civilize and convert them,—not by establishing
colonies of ignorant and selfish foreigners among them, who will seize
every opportunity to overreach or oppress, as interest or ambition
shall instigate,—but by sending intelligent, pious missionaries; men
fearing God and eschewing evil—living evidences of the excellence of
Christianity—having but one object, not the possession of wealth, or
the obtainment of power, or the gratification of selfishness, but the
salvation of the soul. Had she made this attempt, as she was bound to
have made it by every princi-
ple of justice, and every feeling of humanity, a century ago, Africa would have been, at the present day, 'redeemed, regenerated, and disenthralled, and the slavery of her children brought to an end. No pirates would now haunt her coast, to desolate her villages with fire and sword, in order to supply a Christian people with hewers of wood and drawers of water. How much has been needlessly lost to the world by this criminal neglect!
The conception of evangelizing a heathenish country by sending to it an illiterate, degraded and irreligious population, belongs exclusively to the advocates of African colonization. For absurdity and inaptitude, it stands, and must for ever stand, without a parallel. Of all the offspring of prejudice and oppression, it is the most shapeless and unnatural.
No man of refined sensibility can contemplate the fate of the aborigines of this country, without shuddering at the consequences of colonization; and if they melted away at the presence of the Pilgrims and their descendants, like frost before the meridian blaze of the sun,—if they fell to the earth like the leaves of the forest before the autumnal blast, by the settlement of men reputedly humane, wise and pious, in their vicinage,—what can be our hopes for the preservation of the Africans, associated with a population degraded by slavery, and, to a lamentable extent, destitute of religious and secular knowledge? The argument, that the difference of complexion between our forefathers and the aborigines (which is not a distinctive feature between the settlers at Liberia and the natives) was the real cause of this deadly enmity, is more specious than solid. Conduct, not color, secures friendship or excites antipathy, as it happens to be just or unjust. The venerated William Penn and his pacific followers furnish a case in point.
I avow it—the natural tendency of the colony at Liberia excites
the most melancholy apprehensions in my mind. Its
birth was conceived in blood, and its footsteps will be marked with blood down to old age—the blood of the poor natives —unless a special interposition of Divine Providence prevent such a calamity. The emigrants will be eager in the acquisition of wealth, ease and power; and, having superior skill and discernment in trade, they will outwit and defraud the natives as often as occasion permits. This knavish treatment once detected,—as it surely will be, for even an uncivilized people may soon learn that they have been cheated,—will provoke retaliation, and stir up the worst passions of the human breast. Bloody conflicts will ensue, in which the colonists will be victorious. This success will serve to increase the enmity of the natives, and to perpetuate the murderous struggle, until, by their subjugation, the colonists obtain undisputed possession of the land.
Heaven grant that these fears may prove to be only the offspring of a distracted mind ! May the colonists be so just in their intercourse with the Africans, as never to tarnish their own integrity ; so pacific, as to disarm violence and perpetuate good will ; so benevolent, as to excite gratitude and diffuse joy wherever their names shall be known; and so holy, as to exalt the Christian religion in the eyes of an idolatrous nation! But he must be grossly ignorant of human nature, or strangely infatuated, who believes that they will always, or commonly, present such an example.
Examine this scheme. More than one-sixth portion of the American
people—confessedly the most vicious and dangerous portion—are to be
transported to the shores of Africa, by means which are hereafter to
be considered, and at an expense which we shall not stop now to
calculate, for the purpose of civilizing and evangelizing Africa, and
of improving their own condition! Here, then, are two ignorant and
depraved nations to be regenerated instead of one—two huge and
heterogeneous masses of moral contagion min-
gled together benevolently for the preservation of each! One of these is so deplorably stupid, or so unfathomably deep in degradation, (such is the argument,) that, although surrounded by ten millions of people living under the full blaze of gospel light, who have every desirable facility to elevate and save it, it never can rise until it be removed at least four thousand miles from their vicinage!—and yet it is first to be evangelized in a barbarous land, by a feeble, inadequate process, before it can be qualified to evangelize the other nation! In other words, men who are intellectually and morally blind are violently removed from light effulgent into thick darkness, in order that they may obtain light themselves and diffuse light among others! Ignorance is sent to instruct ignorance, ungodliness to exhort ungodliness, vice to stop the progress of vice, and depravity to reform depravity! All that is abhorrent to our moral sense, or dangerous to our quietude, or villainous in human nature, we benevolently disgorge upon Africa, for her temporal and eternal welfare! We propose to build upon her shores, for her glory and defence, colonies framed of materials which we discard as worthless for our own use, and which possess no fitness or durability! Admirable consistency! surprising wisdom! unexampled benevolence! As rationally might we think of exhausting the ocean by multiplying the number of its tributaries, or extinguishing a fire by piling fuel upon it.
Lastly. Any scheme of proselytism, which requires for its
protection the erection of forts and the use of murderous weapons, is
opposed to the genius of Christianity, and radically wrong. If the
gospel cannot be propagated but by the aid of the sword,—if its
success is to depend upon the military science and prowess of its
apostles—it were better to leave the pagan world in darkness. Yet the
first specimen of benevolence and piety, which the colonists gave to
natives, was the building of a fort, and supplying it with arms and ammunition! This was an earnest manifestation of that 'peace on earth, good will to man,' which these expatriated missionaries were sent to inculcate! How eminently calculated to inspire the confidence, excite the gratitude, and accelerate the conversion of the Africans! Their 'dread of the great guns of the Islanders,' (to adopt the language of Mr. Ashmun,) must from the beginning have made a deep and salutary impression upon their minds; and when, not long afterward, 'every shot' from these guns spent its force in a solid mass of living human flesh'—their own flesh—they must have experienced an entire regeneration! Bullets and cannon balls argue with resistless effect, and as easily convert a barbarous as a civilized people. One sanguinary conflict was sufficient to spread the glad tidings of salvation among a thousand tribes, almost with the rapidity of light!
But—says an objector—these reflections come too late. The colony is planted, whatever may be its influence. What do you recommend? Its immediate abandonment to want and ruin? Shall we not bestow upon it our charities, and commend it to the protection of Heaven?
I answer. Let the colony continue to receive the aid, and elicit the prayers of the good and benevolent. Still let it remain within the pale of Christian sympathy. Blot it not out of existence. But let it henceforth develop itself naturally. Crowd not its population. Let transportation cease. Seek no longer to exile millions of our colored countrymen. For, assuredly, if the Colonization Society succeed in its efforts to remove thousands of their number annually, it cannot inflict a heavier curse upon Africa, or more speedily accomplish the entire subversion of the colony.
But—the objector asks—how shall we evangelize Africa? In the
same manner as we have evangalized the Sandwich
and Society Islands, and portions of Burmah, Hindostan, and other lands. By sending missionaries of the Cross indeed, who shall neither build forts nor trust in weapons of war; who shall be actuated by a holy zeal and genuine love; who shall be qualified to instruct, admonish, enlighten, and convert; who shall not by their examples impugn the precepts, nor subject to suspicion the excellence of the Word of Life; who shall not be covered with pollution and shame as with a garment, nor add to the ignorance, sin and corruption of paganism; and who shall abhor dishonesty, violence and treachery. Such men have been found to volunteer their services for the redemption of a lost world; and such men may now be found to embark in the same glorious enterprise. A hundred evangelists like these, dispersed along the shores and in the interior of Africa, would destroy more idols, make more progress in civilizing the natives, suppress more wars, unite in amity more hostile tribes, and convert more souls to Christ, in ten years, than a colony of twenty thousand ignorant, uncultivated, selfish emigrants in a century. Such a mission would be consonant with reason and common sense; nor could it fail to receive the approbation of God. How simple and comprehensive was the command of the Saviour to his disciples! Not—'Drive out from among yourselves those whom you despise, or against whom you cherish a strong antipathy those who need to be instructed and converted themselves those who are the dregs of society, made vicious and helpless by oppression and public opinion; those who are beyond the reach of the gospel in a Christian land; those whose complexions are not precisely like yours; drive out these to evangelize the nations which are in heathenish darkness But—'Go YE into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.'
But—says the objector—the climate of Africa is fatal to white men.
So is the climate of India. But our missionaries have not counted their lives dear unto themselves. As fast as one is cut down, another stands ready to supply his place.
But the objection is fallacious. If white missionaries cannot, black ones can survive in Africa. What, then, is our duty? Obviously to educate colored young men of genius, enterprise and piety, expressly to carry the 'glad tidings of great joy' to her shores. Enough, I venture to affirm, stand ready to be sent, if they can be first qualified for their mission. If our free colored population were brought into our schools, and raised from their present low estate, I am confident that an army of Christian volunteers would go out from their ranks, by a divine impulse, to redeem their African brethren from the bondage of idolatry and the dominion of spiritual death.
If I must become a colonizationist, I insist upon being
consistent: there must be no disagreement between my creed and
practice. I must be able to give a reason why all our tall citizens
should not conspire to remove their more diminutive brethren, and all
the corpulent to remove the lean and lank, and all the strong to
remove the weak, and all the educated to remove the ignorant, and all
the rich to remove the poor, as readily as for the removal of those
whose skin is 'not colored like my own;' for Nature has sinned as
culpably in diversifying the size as the complexion of her progeny,
and Fortune in the distribution of her gifts has been equally fickle.
I cannot perceive that I am more excusable in desiring the banishment
of my neighbor, because his skin is darker than mine, than I should be
in desiring his banishment, because he is a smaller or feebler man
than myself. Surely it would be sinful for a black man to repine and
murmur, to impeach the wisdom and goodness of God, because he was made
with a sable complexion; and dare I be guilty of such an impeachment,
by persecuting him on account of
his color? I dare not: I would as soon deny the existence of my Creator as quarrel with the workmanship of his hands. I rejoice that he has made one star to differ from another star in glory; that he has not given to the sun the softness and tranquillity of the moon, nor to the moon the intensity and magnificence of the sun; that he presents to the eye every conceivable shape, and aspect, and color, in the gorgeous and multifarious productions of nature; and I do not rejoice the less, but admire and exalt him the more, that, notwithstanding he has made of one blood the whole family of man, he has made the whole family of man to differ in personal appearance, complexion and habits.
Of this I am sure: no man, who is truly willing to admit the people of color to an equality with himself, can see any insuperable difficulty in effecting their elevation. When, therefore, I hear an individual—especially a professor of religion—contending that they can never enjoy equal rights in this country, I cannot help suspecting the genuineness of his own republicanism or piety, or thinking that the beam is in his own eye. My Bible assures me that the day is coming when even the 'wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the wolf and the young lion and the fatling together;' and if this be possible, I see no cause why those of the same species—God's rational creatures—fellow-countrymen, in truth, cannot dwell in harmony together.
How atrociously hypocritical, how consummately despicable, how
incorrigibly tyrannical, must this whole nation appear in the eyes of
the people of Europe!—professing to be the friends of the colored
race, actuated by the purest motives of benevolence toward them,
desirous of making atonement for past wrongs, challenging the
admiration of the world for their patriotism, philanthropy and
piety—and yet (hear, O heaven! and be astonished, O earth!) shame-
lessly proclaiming, with a voice louder than thunder, with an aspect malignant as sin, that while their colored countrymen remain among them, they must be deprived of the invaluable privileges of freemen, treated as inferior beings, separated by the brand of indelible ignominy, trampled beneath their feet, and debased to a level with brute beasts! Yea, that they may as soon change their complexion as rise from their degradation I that no device of philanthropy can benefit them here! that they constitute a class, out of which no individual can be elevated, and below which none can be depressed! that no talents however great, no piety however pure and devoted, no patriotism however ardent, no industry however great, no wealth however abundant, can raise them to a footing of equality with the whites! that, 'let them toil from youth to old age in the honorable pursuit of wisdom—let them store their minds with the most valuable researches of science and literature—and let them add to a highly gifted and cultivated intellect, a piety pure, undefiled, and unspotted from the world, it is all nothing—they would not be received into the very lowest walks of society; admiration of such uncommon beings would mingle with disgust!' Yea, that 'there is a broad and impassable line of demarcation between every man who has one drop of African blood in his veins, and every other class in the community'! Yea, that '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'! Yea, that 'Christianity cannot do for them here, what it will do for them in Africa'! Yea, that 'this is not the fault of the colored man, NOR OF THE WHITE MAN, nor of Christianity; but AN ORDINATION OF PROVIDENCE, and no more to be changed than the LAWS OF NATURE'!!
Again I ask, are we pagans, are we savages, are we devils? Search the records of heathenism, and sentiments more hostile to the spirit of the gospel, or of a more black and blasphemous complexion than these, cannot be found. I believe that they are libels upon the character of my countrymen, which time will wipe off. I call upon the spirits of the just made perfect in heaven, upon all who have experienced the love of God in their souls here below, upon the Christian converts in India and the islands of the sea, to sustain me in the assertion, that there is power enough in the religion of Jesus Christ to melt down the most stubborn prejudices, to overthrow the highest walls of partition, to break the strongest caste, to improve and elevate the most degraded, to unite in fellowship the most hostile, and to equalize and bless all its recipients. Make me sure that there is not, and I will give it up, now and for ever. 'In Christ Jesus, all are one: there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female.'
These sentiments were not uttered by infidels, nor by the low and
vile, but in many instances by professors of religion and ministers of
the gospel; and in almost every instance, by reputedly the most
enlightened, patriotic and benevolent men in the land! Tell it not
abroad! publish it not in the streets of Calcutta! Even the eminent
President of Union College, (Rev. Dr. Nott,) could so far depart,
unguardedly, I hope, from Christian love and duty, as to utter
language like this in an address in behalf of the Colonization
Society:—'With us they (the free people of color) have been degraded
by slavery, and still further degraded by the
mockery of nominal freedom.' This charge is not true. We have
not, it is certain, treated our colored brethren as the law of
kindness and the ties of brotherhood demand; but have we outdone
Southern slaveholders in cruelty? Were it true, to forge new fetters
for the limbs of these
degraded beings would be an act of benevolence. But their condition is as much superior to that of the slaves, as happiness is to misery: indeed, it admits of no comparison. Again he says: 'We have endeavored, but endeavored in vain, to restore them either to self-respect, or to the respect of others.' It is painful to contradict so worthy an individual; but nothing is more certain than that this statement is altogether erroneous. We have derided, we have shunned, we have neglected them, in every possible manner. They have had to rise, not only under the mountainous weight of their own vice and ignorance, but also under the heavy and constant pressure of our contempt and injustice. In despite of us, they have done well. Again: It is not our fault that we have failed; it is not theirs.' We are wholly and exclusively in fault. What have we done to raise them up from the earth? What have we not done to keep them down? Once more: 'It has resulted from a cause over which neither they, nor we, can ever have control.' In other words, they have been made with skins not colored like our own,' and therefore we cannot recognize them as fellow-countrymen, or treat them like rational beings! One sixth of our whole population must, FOR EVER, in this land, remain a wretched, ignorant and degraded race; and yet nobody is culpable—none but the Creator, who has made us incapable of doing unto others as we would have them do unto us! Now, if this be not an impeachment of Infinite Goodness, I cannot define it. The same sentiment is reiterated by a writer in the Southern Religious Telegraph, who says—'The exclusion of the free black from the civil and literary privileges of our country depends on another circumstance than that of character—a circumstance, which, as it was entirely beyond his control, so it is unchangeable, and will for ever operate. This circumstance is—he is a black man'!! And the Board of Managers of the Parent
Society, in their Fifteenth Annual Report, declare that 'an ordination of Providence' prevents the general improvement of the people of color in this land! How is our country dishonored, how are the requirements of the gospel contemned, by this ungodly plea! Having satisfied himself that the Creator is alone blameable for the past and present degradation of the free blacks, Dr. Nott draws the natural and unavoidable inference that 'here, therefore, they must be forever debased, for ever useless, for ever a nuisance, for ever a calamity;' and then gravely declares, (mark the climax!) and yet THEY, AND THEY ONLY, are qualified for colonizing Africa'! 'Why, then,' he asks, 'in the name of God,' (the abrupt appeal, in this connection, seems almost profane,) 'should we hesitate to encourage their departure?'
Nature, we are constantly assured, has raised up impassable barriers between the races. But Southern slaveholders have clearly demonstrated, that an amalgamation with their slaves is not only possible, but a very easy matter, and eminently productive. It neither ends in abortion nor produces monsters. In truth, it is often so difficult in the slave States to distinguish between the fruits of this intercourse and the children of white parents, that witnesses are summoned at court to solve the problem! Talk of the barriers of Nature, when the land swarms with living refutations of the statement! Happy indeed would it be for many a female slave, if such a barrier could exist during the period of her servitude, to protect her from the lust of her master.
In France, England, Spain, and other countries, persons of color
maintain as high a rank, and are treated as honorably, as any other
class of the inhabitants, in despite of the 'impassable barriers of
Nature.' Yet it is proclaimed to the world by the Colonization
Society, that the American people can never be as republican in their
feelings and practices as
Frenchmen, Spaniards or Englishmen! Nay, that religion itself cannot subdue their malignant prejudices, nor induce them to treat their dark-skinned brethren in accordance with their professions of republicanism! My countrymen! is it so? Are you willing thus to be held up as tyrants and hypocrites for ever? as less magnanimous and just than the populace of Europe? No—no! I cannot give you up as incorrigibly wicked, nor my country as sealed over to destruction. My confidence remains like the oak—like the Alps—unshaken, storm-proof. I am not discouraged; I am not distrustful. I still place an unwavering reliance upon the omnipotence of truth. I still believe that the demands of justice will be satisfied; that the voice of bleeding humanity will melt the most obdurate heart; and that the land will be redeemed and regenerated by an enlightened and energetic public opinion. As long as there remains among us a single copy of the Declaration of Independence, or of the New Testament, I will not despair of the social and political elevation of my black countrymen. Already a rallying-cry is heard from the East and the West, from the North and the South; towns and cities and states are in commotion; volunteers are trooping to the field; the spirit of freedom and the fiend of oppression are in mortal conflict, and all neutrality is at an end. Already the line of division is drawn; on one side are the friends of truth and liberty, with their banner floating high in the air, on which are inscribed, in letters of light, 'IMMEDIATE ABOLITION'—'NO COMPROMISE WITH OPPRESSORS'—'EQUAL RIGHTS'—'NO EXPATRIATION'—'DUTY, AND NOT CONSEQUENCES'—'LET JUSTICE BE DONE, THOUGH THE HEAVENS FALL!' On the opposite side stand the supporters and apologists of slavery, in mighty array, with a black flag, on which are seen, in bloody characters, 'AFRICAN COLONIZATION'—'GRADUAL ABOLITION'—'RIGHTS OF PROPERTY'—'NO EQUALITY'—'EXPUL-SION OF THE BLACKS'—'PROTECTION TO TYRANTS!' Who can doubt the issue of this controversy, or which side has the approbation of the Lord of hosts?
See how suddenly, by a touch of the Colonization wand, those who, in one breath, are denounced as 'nuisances,' can be transformed into enlightened citizens and excellent Christians—to hide the iniquity of their expulsion!
In the month of June, 1830, I happened to peruse a number of the Southern Religious Telegraph, in which I found an essay, enforcing the duty of clergymen to take up collections in aid of the funds of the Colonization Society, on the then approaching Fourth of July. After an appropriate introductory paragraph, the writer says:
'But—we have a plea like a peace-offering to man and to God. We answer poor blind Africa in her complaint—that we have her children, and that they have served on our plantations. And we tell her, look at their returning! We took them barbarous, though measurably free,—untaught—rude—without science—without the true religion—without philosophy—and strangers to the best civil governments. And now we return them to her bosom, with the mechanic arts, with science, with philosophy, with civilization, with republican feelings, and above all, with the true knowledge of the true God, and the way of salvation through the Redeemer.'
'The mechanic arts'! With whom did they serve their
apprenticeship? 'With philosophy'! In what colleges were they taught?
It is strange that we should be so anxious to get rid of these
scientific men of color, these philosophers, these republicans, these
Christians, and that we should shun their company as if they were
afflicted with the hydrophobia, or carried a deadly pestilence in
their train! Certainly, they must have singular notions of the
Christian religion which tolerates—or, rather, which is so perverted
as to tolerate—the oppression of God's rational creatures by its
professors! They must feel a peculiar kind of brotherly
love for those good men, who banded together to remove them to Africa, because they were too proud to associate familiarly with men of a sable complexion! But the writer proceeds:
We tell her, look at the little colony on her shores. We tell her, look to the consequences that must flow to all her borders from religion, and science, and knowledge, and civilization, and republican government! And then we ask her—is not one ship load of emigrants returning with these multiplied blessings, worth more to her than a million of her barbarous sons?'
So! every ship load of ignorant and helpless emigrants is to more than compensate Africa for every million of her children who have been kidnapped, buried in the ocean and on the land, tortured with savage cruelty, and held in perpetual servitude! Truly, this is a compendious method of balancing accounts. In the sight of God, of Africa, and of the world, we are consequently blameless, and rather praiseworthy, for our past transgressions. It is such sophistry as is contained in the foregoing extract, that kindles my indignation into a blaze. I abhor cant, I abhor hypocrisy; and if some of the advocates of the Colonization Society do not deal largely in both, I am unable to comprehend the meaning of those terms.
Instead of returning to those, whom they have so deeply injured,
with repenting and undissembling love; instead of seeking to
conciliate and remunerate the victims of their prejudice and
oppression; instead of resolving to break the yoke of servitude, and
let the oppressed go free; it seems to be the only anxiety and aim of
the American people, to outwit the vengeance of Heaven, and strengthen
the bulwarks of tyranny, by expelling the free people of color, and
effecting such a diminution of the number of slaves as shall give the
white population a triumphant and irresistible supe-
riority! 'Check the increase!' is their cry—'let us retain in everlasting bondage as many as we can, safely! To do justly is not our intention; we only mean to remove the surplus of our present stock we think we shall be able, by this prudent device, to oppress and rob with impunity. Our present wailing is not for our heinous crimes, but only because our avarice and cruelty have carried us beyond our ability to protect ourselves: we lament, not because we hold so large a number in fetters of iron, but because we cannot safely hold more!'
Ye crafty calculators! ye greedy and relentless tyrants ye
contemners of justice and mercy! ye pale-faced usurpers! my soul
spurns you with unspeakable disgust. Know ye not that the reward of
your hands shall be given you? 'Wo unto them that decree unrighteous
decrees, and that write grievousness which they have prescribed; to
turn aside the needy from judgment, and to take away the right from
the poor, that widows may be their prey, and that they may rob the
fatherless! And what will ye do in the day of visitation, and in the
desolation which shall come from far? to whom will ye flee for help?
and where will ye leave your glory?' 'What mean ye that ye beat my
people to pieces, and grind the face of the poor? saith the Lord God
of hosts.' 'Behold, the hire of the laborers which have reaped down
your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth; and the cries
of them which have reaped are entered into the ear of the Lord of
Sabaoth.' Repent! repent! now, in sackcloth and ashes. Think not to
succeed in your expulsive crusade; you cannot hide your motives from
the Great Searcher of hearts; and if a sinful worm of the dust, like
myself, is fired with indignation at your dastardly behavior and mean
conspiracy to evade repentance and punishment, how must the anger of
Him, whose holiness and justice are infinite, burn against you ? Is it
not a fearful thing to fall
into the hands of the living God? You may plot by day and by night; you may heap together the treasures of the land, and multiply and enlarge your combinations, to extricate yourselves from peril; but you cannot succeed. Your only alternative is, either to redress the wrongs of the oppressed now, and humble yourselves before God, or prepare for the chastisements of Heaven. I repeat it—REPENTANCE or PUNISHMENT must be yours.
The Colonization Society deters a large number of masters from
liberating their slaves, and hence directly perpetuates the evils of
slavery: it deters them for two reasons—an unwillingness to augment
the wretchedness of those who are in servitude, by turning them loose
upon the country, and a dread of increasing the number of their
enemies. It creates and nourishes the bitterest animosity against the
free blacks. It has spread an alarm among all classes of society, in
all parts of the country; and acting under this fearful impulse, they
begin to persecute, believing self-preservation imperiously calls for
this severe treatment. It is constantly thundering in the ears of the
slave States—'Your free blacks contaminate your slaves, excite their
deadliest hate, and are a source of horrid danger to yourselves! They
must be removed, or your destruction is inevitable.' What is their
response? Precisely such as might be expected—'We know it; we dread
the presence of this class; their influence over our slaves weakens
our power, and endangers our safety; they must, they shall be
expatriated, or be crushed to the earth if they remain!' It says to
the free States—'Your colored population can never be rendered
serviceable, intelligent or loyal; they will only, and always, serve
to increase your taxes, crowd your poor—houses and penitentiaries,
and corrupt and impoverish society!' Again, what is the natural
response?—'It is even so; they are offensive to the eye, and a pest
in community; theirs is now, and
must inevitably be, without a reversal of the laws of nature, the lot of vagabonds; it were useless to attempt their intellectual and moral improvement among ourselves; and therefore be this their alternative—either to emigrate to Liberia, or remain for ever a despicable caste in this country!'
Hence the enactment of those sanguinary laws, which disgrace our statute books; hence, too, the increasing disposition which is every where seen to render the situation of the free blacks intolerable. Never was it so pitiable and distressing—so full of peril and anxiety—so burdened with misery, despondency and scorn; never were the prejudices of society so virulent and implacable against them; never were their prospects so dark, and dreary, and hopeless; never was the hand of power so heavily laid upon their limbs; never were they so restricted in regard to locomotion and the advantages of education, as at the present time. Athwart their sky scarcely darts a single ray of light—above and around them darkness reigns, and an angry tempest is mustering its fearful strength, and 'thunders are uttering their voices.' Treachery is seeking to decoy, and violence to expel them. For all this, and more than this, and more that is to come, the American Colonization Society is responsible. And no better evidence is needed than this: their persecution, traducement and wretchedness increase in exact ratio with the influence, popularity and extension of this Society! The fact is undeniable, and it is conclusive. For it is absurd to suppose, that, as the disposition and ability of an association to alleviate misery increase, so will the degradation and suffering of the objects of its charities.
If the American Colonization Society were indeed actuated by the
purest motives and the best feelings toward the objects of its
supervision; if it were not based upon injustice,
fraud, persecution and incorrigible prejudice; still, if its purpose be contrary to the wishes and injurious to the interests of the free people of color, it ought not to receive the countenance of the public. Even the trees of the forest are keenly susceptible to every touch of violence, and seem to deprecate transplantation to a foreign soil. Even birds and animals pine in exile from their native haunts; their local attachments are wonderful; they migrate only to return again at the earliest opportunity. Perhaps there is not a living thing, from the hugest animal down to the minutest animalcule, whose pleasant associations are not circumscribed, or that has not some favorite retreats. This universal preference, this love of home, seems to be the element of being,—a constitutional attribute given by the all-wise Creator to bind each separate tribe or community within intelligent and well-defined limits: for, in its absence, order would be banished from the world, collision between the countless orders of creation would be perpetual, and violence would depopulate the world with more than pestilential rapidity.
Shall it be said that beings endowed with high intellectual powers, sustaining the most important relations, created for social enjoyments, and made but a little lower than the angels—shall it be said that their local attachments are less tenacious than those of trees, and birds, and beasts, and insects? I know that the blacks are classed by some, who scarcely give any evidence of their own humanity but their shape, among the brute creation: but are they below the brutes? or are they more insensible to rude assaults than forest-trees ?
'Men,' says an erratic but powerful writer—'men are like trees:
they delight in a rude soil—they strike their roots downward with a
perpetual effort, and heave their proud branches upward in perpetual
strife. Are they to be remov-
ed?—you must tear up the very earth with their roots, and rock, and ore, and impurity, or they perish. They cannot be translated with safety. Something of their home—a little of their native soil, must cling to them forever, or they die.'
This love of home, of neighborhood, of country, is inherent in the human breast. It accompanies the child from its earliest reminiscence up to old age: it is written upon every tangible and permanent object within the habitual cognizance of the eye—upon stone, and tree, and rivulet—upon the green hill, and the verdant plain, and the opulent valley—upon house, and garden, and steeple-spire—upon the soil, whether it be rough or smooth, sandy or hard, barren or luxuriant.
No one will understand me to maintain, that population should never be thinned by foreign emigration; but only that such an emigration is unnatural. The great mass of a neighborhood or country must necessarily be stable: only fractions are cast off, and float away on the tide of adventure. Individual enterprise or estrangement is one thing: the translation of an entire people to an unknown clime, another. The former may be moved by a single impulse—by a love of novelty, or a desire of gain, or a hope of preferment; he leaves no perceptible void in society. The latter can never be expatriated but by some extraordinary calamity, or by the application of intolerable restraints. They must first be rendered broken-hearted or loaded with chains—hope must not merely sicken but die—cord after cord must be sundered—ere they will seek another home.
African colonization is directly and irreconcilably opposed to the
wishes of our colored population, as a body. Their desires ought to be
tenderly regarded. In all my intercourse with them, in various towns
and cities, I have never seen one of their number who was friendly to
this scheme; and I
have not been backward in canvassing their opinions on this subject. They are as unanimously opposed to a removal to Africa, as the Cherokees from the council-fires and graves of their fathers. It is remarkable, too, that they are as united in their respect and esteem for the republic of Hayti. But this is their country—they are resolute against every migratory plot, and willing to rely on the justice of the nation for an ultimate restoration to all their lost rights and privileges. What is the fact? Through the instrumentality of BENJAMIN LUNDY, the distinguished and veteran champion of emancipation, a great highway has been opened to the Haytien republic, over which our colored population may travel toll free, and at the end of their brief journey be the free occupants of the soil, and meet such a reception as was never yet given to any sojourners in any country, since the departure of Israel out of Egypt. One would think, that, with such inducements and under such circumstances, this broad thoroughfare would present a most animating spectacle; that the bustle and roar of a journeying multitude would fall upon the ear like the strife of the ocean, or the distant thunder of the retiring storm; and that the song of the oppressor and the oppressed, a song of deliverance to each, would go up to heaven, till its echoes were seemingly the responses of angels and justified spirits. But it is not so. Only here and there a traveller is seen to enter upon the road—there is no noise of preparation or departure; but a silence, deeper than the breathlessness of midnight, rests upon our land—not a shout of joy is heard throughout our borders!
Whatever may be the result of this great controversy, I shall have
the consolation of believing that no efforts were lacking, on my part,
to uproot the prejudices of my countrymen, to persuade them to walk in
the path of duty and shun the precipice of expediency, to undo the
heavy burdens and let the oppressed go free at once, to warn them of
the danger of expelling the people of color from their native land, and to convince them of the necessity of abandoning a dangerous and chimerical, as well as unchristian and anti-republican association. For these efforts I have hitherto suffered reproach and persecution, must expect to suffer, and am willing to suffer to the end.