previous next


Anti-slavery sentiment in Europe.

The anti-slavery sentiment which is so universal throughout Europe has been manufactured in great part by their own Governments, for the purpose of diverting the attention of their own white slaves from their intolerable bondage. It is a fact which no one disputer, that the physical condition of the great mass of the laboring population of the Old World is far inferior to that of the slaves of the Southern States. The amount of work required from them to support existence is nearly double, and, more exhausting than their toil, is the fearful solicitude which perpetually haunts them of those many contingencies of life, and that certain event of old age or death, which will leave their families entirely unprovided for. In the days of villenage, no such evils as these haunted any man's imagination. The labor was not as great, and there was no anxiety whatever for the future.--Such a thing as alms-houses was almost unknown, and anxiety for the future tormented no one. If that condition, like all others of humanity, had its drawbacks and evils, it was not without certain alleviations unknown to the present state of nominal freedom. In plenty to eat and drink, in sufficient clothing, and in certain provision for the future, it abounded. And, having food and raiment, men might well afford to be content in this short life; while, as to the next, the serf received as much attention from the Church as the lord; the peer and the peasant enjoyed equal privileges in the ministrations of religion, and in all those consolations and hopes which belong to an existence of which the present is but as a grain of sand compared with all the atoms which make up the infinite number of the Almighty's works.

From motives of the most sordid self-interest, from a cold-blooded calculation of dollars and cents, whereby it was demonstrated that the nobles and landed proprietors of Europe would find it cheaper to liberate their serfs and set the whole helpless multitude to competing for employment in order to save themselves from starvation, serfdom came to an end nominally in the old world. Really, it continued to exist in its worst form. There is scarce an evil of it which has not been aggravated by the change, whilst all its advantages have been lost. The serf is still the serf, and although he bears no mark of bondage upon his garments, his very body, often bent and deformed by toil, testifies to his condition.--Labor is not only a necessity, but harder labor than ever before; the military duty is inevitable, so that in peace and war he is as much a slave as any of his forefathers were slaves in the middle ages. The only difference is that he is a slave whom nobody cares for. Whether he lives or dies is a matter of concern only to his wife and children. His labor is the only interest his present master has in him, and when no longer able to perform that, there are plenty of others to take his place. Politically, he is as much a nonentity as when he was a serf, and socially, he has, if possible, even less consideration.

In many portions of Europe not only the men, but the women, labor in the fields, performing those heavy agricultural duties which are here performed by male slaves, and are worked so hard and fed so poorly that they become the victims of physical diseases and deformities which are transmitted from generation to generation. In some portions they are not permitted even to marry without the consent of the proprietor of the estates on which they labor, for fear of increasing the dense population beyond the means of subsistence. In Great Britain, where there is so much wealth, civilization, and liberty, the condition of the manufacturing and mining classes, and of the multitudinous poor in the great cities, is worse than that in any other portion of the world. Let any man read Mayhew's account of the London poor, of the awful destitution, misery, and crime in which they exist, and examine the Parliamentary reports of the condition of the mining and manufacturing people of the kingdom, and then wonder at the self-delusion which, with such a beam in its own eye, can concern itself about the mote in the eyes of others.--Whilst the Duchess of Sutherland is sorely exercised upon the subject of African slavery, she coolly depopulates her estates in Scotland, that sheep may live there instead of men; and whilst Lord John Russell waxes sentimental in his antipathy to negro slavery, he beholds without concern millions of Englishmen, multitudes of whom, from the tender age of six years, are chained to the most exhausting manufacturing and mining labor, and many of whom never so much as heard of a God.

What, then, ought we to care for the antislavery sentiments of the old world? There is nothing in it of sincerity or virtue; no moral power that can in any way appeal to our conscience or our judgment. We know what African slavery is, and that, whatever it may be, Europe planted it here, and would not remove it, at the only period when it could have been removed, without eradicating with it the whole frame-work of society. We know that those very nations which profess to be most concerned about our institutions, pursue without remorse all the horrors and barbarities of the Coolie trade; and that, for the benefit of her trade and revenue, England deliberately forces opium upon the Chinese, enslaving them in both soul and body to add money to her purse. The anti-slavery sentiment of the old world can have no effect upon men who understand its utter hollowness and selfishness. Its physical power is all we have to guard against, and our sufficient security against that is its own interests, which it would never sacrifice to anti-slavery, even if it believed all and more than it says of the horrors and evils of servitude.

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)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Scotland (United Kingdom) (1)
England (United Kingdom) (1)
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.
Sutherland (1)
John Russell (1)
Mayhew (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: