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Such is Slavery in its five special elements of Barbarism, as recognized by law: first, assuming that man can hold property in man; secondly, abrogating the relation of husband and wife; thirdly, abrogating the parental tie; fourthly, closing the gates of knowledge; and, fifthly, appropriating the unpaid labor of another. Take away these elements, sometimes called ‘abuses,’ and Slavery will cease to exist; for it is these very ‘abuses’ which constitute Slavery. Take away any one of them, and the abolition of Slavery begins. And when I present Slavery for judgment, I mean no slight evil, with regard to which there may be reasonable difference of opinion, but I mean this fivefold embodiment of ‘abuse,’ this ghastly quincunx of Barbarism, each particular of which, if considered separately, must be denounced at once with all the ardor [323] of an honest soul, while the whole fivefold combination must awake a fivefold denunciation. The historic pirates, once the plague of the Gulf whose waters they plundered, have been praised for the equity with which they adjusted the ratable shares of spoil, and also for generous benefactions to the poor, and even to churches, so that Sir Walter Scott could say,—

Do thou revere
The statutes of the Buccaneer.

In our Law of Slavery what is there to revere? what is there at which the soul does not rise in abhorrence?

But this fivefold combination becomes yet more hateful when its single motive is considered; and here Slavery paints itself finally. The Senator from Mississippi [Mr. Jefferson Davis] says that it is ‘but a form of civil government for those who by their nature are not fit to govern themselves.’ The Senator is mistaken. It is an outrage, where five different pretensions all concur in one single object, looking only to the profit of the master, and constituting its ever-present motive power, which is simply to compel the labor of fellow-men without wages. If I pronounce this object not only barbarous, but brutal, I follow the judgment of Luther's Bible, in the book ‘Jesus Sirach,’ known in our translation as Ecclesiasticus, where it is said: ‘He that giveth not his wages to the laborer, he is a bloodhound.’

Slavery is often exposed as degrading Humanity. On this fruitful theme nobody ever expressed himself with the force and beautiful eloquence of our own Channing. His generous soul glowed with indignation at the thought of man, supremest creature of earth, and first of God's works, despoiled of manhood and changed to a thing. But earlier than Channing was Jean Jacques Rousseau, who, with similar eloquence and the same glowing indignation, vindicated Humanity. How grandly he insists that nobody can consent to be a slave, or can be born a slave! Believing Liberty the most noble of human attributes, this wonderful writer will not stop to consider if descent to the condition of beasts be not to degrade human nature, if renunciation of the most precious of all God's gifts be not to offend the Author of our being; but he demands only by what right those who degrade themselves to this depth can subject their posterity to the same ignominy, renouncing for them goods which do not depend upon any ancestors, and without which life itself is to all worthy of it a burden; and he justly concludes, that, as to establish Slavery, it is necessary to violate Nature, so, to [324] perpetuate this claim, it is necessary to change Nature. His final judgment, being the practical conclusion of this outburst, holds up jurisconsults, gravely pronouncing that the child of a slave born a slave, as deciding, in other terms, that a man is not born a man,—thus exposing the peculiar absurdity of that pretension by which Slavery is transmitted from the mother to her offspring, as expressed in the Latin scrap on which the Senator from Virginia [Mr. Mason] relies: Partus sequitur ventrem.

If the offense of Slavery were less extended, if it were confined to some narrow region, if it had less of grandeur in its proportions, of its victims were counted by tens and hundreds instead of millions, the five-headed enormity would find little indulgence; all would rise against it, while Religion and Civilization would lavish choicest efforts in the general warfare. But what is wrong when done to one man cannot be right when done to many. If it is wrong thus to degrade a single soul, if it is wrong thus to degrade you, Mr. President, it cannot be right to degrade a whole race! And yet this is denied by the barbarous logic of Slavery, which, taking advantage of its own wrong, claims immunity because its usurpation has assumed a front of audacity that cannot be safely attacked. Unhappily there is Barbarism elsewhere in the world; but American Slavery, as defined by existing law, stands forth as the greatest organized Barbarism on which the sun now looks. It is without a single peer. Its author, after making it, broke the die.

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William Ellery Channing (4)
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