previous next

Chapter 10: wanted, an Anti-slavery society

The National Anti-Slavery Society--the society organized by Garrison and his confreres, and which longest maintained its organization — made one great mistake. It disbanded. It assumed that its work was done when African slavery in this country was pronounced defunct by law. It took it for granted that the enslavement of the colored man — not necessarily the negro — was no longer possible under the Stars and Stripes. Then and there it committed a grievous blunder. Its paramount error was in assuming that a political party could for all time be depended upon as a party of freedom. It trusted to the assurances of politicians that they would protect the colored man in all his natural and acquired rights, and in that belief voluntarily gave up the ghost and cast its mantle to the winds.

Now, the fact is that the National Anti-Slavery Society was never more needed than it is to-day. There is a mighty work to be done that was directly in the line of its operations. First and foremost, it will not be denied that a citizen of our Republic who is deprived of the elective franchise is robbed of one of his most valuable privileges-one of his most [80] essential rights. The ballot, under a political system like ours, is both the sword and the shield of liberty. Without it no man is really a freeman. He does not stand on an equality with his fellows.

Nor will it be denied that the negro, although our amended Constitution promises him all the privileges of citizenship, is in many parts of our country practically divested of his vote. By a species of legerdemain in the communities in which he is most numerous and most needs protection, he is to all intents and purposes disfranchised. What will follow as the final outcome we do not know, but that is the beginning of his attempted re-enslavement. It is beyond any question that his return to involuntary servitude in some condition or conditions, the disarming him of the ballot being the initial step in the proceeding, is seriously contemplated, if not deliberately planned. Indeed, under the name of “peonage” the work of re-establishing a system of slaveholding that is barbarous in the extreme is already begun. Men and women have been seized upon by force, and upon the most flimsy pretexts have been subjected to a bondage that in its inhumanities may easily equal even the slavery of the olden time. The number of victims is undoubtedly much larger than the general public has any idea of.

Nor are there lacking signs of studied preparation for the extension of the system. The present time is full of them. Efforts to create a prejudice against the colored man are visible in all directions. He is described as a failure in the role of freeman. The idleness and shiftlessness of certain members of his race-undoubtedly altogether too numerous-are [81] dwelt upon as characteristic of the entire family. Scant praise is given to those members who are doing well, and whose number is encouragingly large. These are as far as possible ignored. The race problem is spoken of as full of increasing difficulties, and as imperatively demanding a change from present conditions. The people of the North are being especially indoctrinated with such ideas. They are told that they must leave their brethren of the former slaveholding States, and in which the negroes principally dwell, to deal with the issues arising between the whites and the blacks; that they — the Southerners-understand the questions to be settled, and that outsiders should withhold their hands and their sympathies. It is none of their business, they are informed, while assurances are freely given that the people who, because of their experience with them, understand the negroes, will take considerate care of them. What kind of care they are taking of them in certain quarters is shown by recent incontestable revelations.

And what has the political party which, in view of its manifold professions, was supposed to have the interests of the negro in its especial keeping, done about it? Nothing whatever. It has looked on with the coolest indifference. The only concern it has shown in the matter has related to the question of Congressional representation as dependent upon the enumeration of electors, and, in so doing, has plainly intimated that if, through the negro's political robbery, it can secure an increase of partisan power, it is perfectly willing that the cause of the injured black man should “slide.” [82]

Indifference in regard to the rights of peoples of color is unfortunately not the only nor even the greatest charge to be laid at the door of the Republican party. It may be asserted that this party has become an active aggressor in trampling down the liberties of colored peoples. As the assignee of Spain in taking over (without consulting those who were most concerned) the control of the territory of the Philippine Islands, it has purchased (and has paid cash for) the right to dominate from eight to ten millions of people. These people may, under the existing conditions, be described as being in a state of slavery. If a foreign people, say a people coming from the other side of the globe, should treat Americans as we have treated the Filipinos, should deny to us the right of self-government, should send great armies to chastise us for disobedience (or for what they might call “rebellion” ), and should do this for no better reason than that our skin was darker or lighter than their own, we Americans would doubtless consider ourselves to be in a state of slavery. Why in any sense is slavery in Luzon more defensible than slavery in South Carolina or in Alabama? If it be wrong to keep in slavery the black man in America (as in theory at least we are all now agreed it is wrong), what is the justice in depriving of his freedom the brown-skinned Tagal? Can a bill of sale from Spain give to us any such privilege, if privilege it may be called? Can an agreement with Spain bring to naught our responsibilities under our own Declaration of Independence?

Although, owing to the remoteness of the islands, [83] we have as yet but little trustworthy knowledge as to what has really occurred in this new territory, and possibly in any case have not been informed of the things which are most to be condemned, the reports that have reached us of barbarities perpetrated upon a people who never did us any harm or wrong ought certainly to awaken in American bosoms every throb of pity and every sentiment of manliness. We have had accounts of butcheries called “battles” in which have been slaughtered hundreds of almost defenseless creatures for no offense except that of standing up for their independence. It is said that certain districts that would not acknowledge our mastery have been turned into wildernesses, and that in these districts the number of the slain may easily have equaled the victims of massacres in Armenia and Bessarabia, massacres which we have always so strenuously condemned. Thousands of men, women, and children have perished at our hands or in connection with operations for which we were responsible; and in addition to the taking of life there is record of the infliction of serious cruelties. As assignees of Spain, we seem to have succeeded not only to her properties but to her policies in the treatment of subject races. We do not know that in the greatest excesses of the bad colonial government of Spaniards they ever inflicted a torture more exquisite than that of the “water cure.” How many of the perpetrators of these atrocities have been adequately punished, or how many have been punished at all?

It is wonderful with what complacency we have received the accounts of these horrible affairs. [84] Nobody has been disturbed. The newspapers, beyond reporting the facts, have had nothing to say. The Church has been silent-at least that can be said of the Protestant Church. Not one brave or manly word of protest or condemnation has the writer heard, or heard of, from a Protestant American pulpit. Catholics, being victims and sufferers, have complained and protested. The greatest discomfort these things have produced has been occasioned by the apprehension that, through somebody's lack of patriotism, our flag may be withdrawn from the field of such glorious operations. It used to be our boast that Freedom followed our flag. Now slavery follows it.

In view of the facts stated we can understand, not only the serenity, but the favor with which the people of this country, or the great body of them, so long looked upon the workings of African slavery, and the difficulty which the Abolitionists had in arousing a sentiment of revulsion toward it.

One of the curious things in this connection is the similarity — the practical sameness — of the arguments used to justify the Philippine occupation and those once used to justify American slaveholding. We are now working to civilize and Christianize the Filipinos, and were then civilizing and Christianizing the negroes with the lash and the bludgeon.

Of course, there are other arguments. Increase of trade and wealth, as the result of our appropriation of other peoples' possessions, is freely predicted. It has always been the robber's plea. That is what it is to-day, even when employed by a professed Christian nation. Nor is it improved by the fact [85] that the grounds upon which it is predicated and urged are largely fallacious. The spoliation of the Philippines will never repay us for the blood-our own blood-and treasure it has cost us, apart from any moral or humanitarian consideration. There is not one aspect in this business that promises to redound to our benefit. No, I won't say that; I would hardly be justified in going that far. In one particular the Philippine operation has profited a considerable part of our people. It has added materially to our Army and our Navy. The opportunity for enlargement in those quarters was, undoubtedly, the strongest inducement for our entering upon a colonial policy. For a great many people, and especially in official circles, we cannot have a standing army that is too large, nor too many ships of war. The more powerful those appendages of our authority the larger is the opening for the kinsmen and retainers of those in high places, who may be seeking profitable and agreeable employment, and the more liberal the contributions of contractors and jobbers to the sinews of partisan warfare. Our Army to-day is nearly three times what it was five years ago, although outside of the Philippines we are at peace with all mankind. Nor is that formidable advance at an end. The Far East is now certain to be the world's great battle-ground for the near future, and since we have entered that field as the master of the Philippines, like a knight of the olden time who was ready to do battle with all comers, we must be constantly increasing our preparation. We may not only have to fight the Russians and the Japanese and the Chinese, one or all, but those [86] foolish Filipinos may again take it into their silly heads that they can govern themselves as well or better than we can do it for them. That means rebellion, and, of course, chastisement must follow. As climatic conditions in that part of the world are such that it requires the presence of three men in the army to supply the active services of one, it is obvious that so long as we adhere to our present Asiatic policy, we shall never have an army and a navy large enough and strong enough to meet the requirements of our new condition.

On all questions affecting human liberty, no one can fail to observe that the attitude of the two great political parties of to-day, is practically that of the two principal parties at the time the Abolitionists began their operations. One of them may pass perfunctory resolutions against the Philippine crime, but dares to say nothing about the treatment visited upon the negro. The other may say a few compassionate, but meaningless, words for the negro, but cannot denounce the oppression of the Filipinos. Both are fatally handicapped by their connections and committals. Both are, in fact, pro-slavery, although the one in power, because of its responsibility for existing conditions, is the more criminal of the two.

What this country now needs, in the opinion of the writer, is a revival of Abolitionism, and to that end, as one of the instrumentalities that would be serviceable, he holds that the old National Anti-Slavery Society should be restored. The most of the men and women that made that institution so useful and honorable, have passed from the scenes of their labors, but a few of them are left, and they [87] and such as may feel like joining them, should meet and unfurl the old standard once more. There may be new associations looking to very much the same ends, but better the old guard under the old name. It would carry a prestige that no newer organization could command. It would create a measure of confidence that would be most strongly felt. The principles and policies it should urge are few and simple.

First: Let it declare that the colored man in this country must be permitted to enjoy all his rights under the Constitution as it is, both political and personal.

Second: Let it declare that all forms of servitude, including the denial of political self-government, under the flag, as well as under the Constitution, must cease.

And then let it go to work for the results thus indicated, in the spirit and with the confidence of the old-time leaders. The Society should be revived and re-established, not for a single campaign only, or for the rectification of such oppressions as are now in sight, but for all time. It ought to be made a permanent institution. It should be so arranged that the sons would step into the ranks as the fathers dropped out and that new recruits would be constantly enlisted. Thus reorganized the grand old institution would be an invaluable watchman on the walls of Freedom's stronghold. The exhortation to which it should listen, is that of the poet Bryant when he says:

Oh not yet
Mayst thou unloose thy corslet, nor lay by
Thy sword, nor yet, O Freedom, close thy lids
In slumber, for thine enemy never sleeps.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)
hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Americans (2)
William Lloyd Garrison (1)
Catholics (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: