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Lecture X: emancipation doctrines discussed.

  • Gradual emancipation, the popular plan
  • -- it would operate to collect the slaves into a few States, cut them off from contact with civilization, and reduce them to barbarism -- it would make an opening for Northern farmers and their menials to come into those States from which they retired -- the modifications which the system of slavery has undergone within late years -- a comparison of the menials of the free and of the slave States, and the only plan of emancipation admissible -- the gospel the only remedy for the evils of slavery -- Paul's philosophy and practice, 1 Tim. VI. 1-5.

immediate emancipation is the scheme of the abolitionists proper, whilst gradual emancipation is the favorite plan of the anti-slavery party, The ground we should take is this, that no plan of emancipation, either immediate or gradual, is adapted to the present moral condition and relative circumstances of our African population. Nothing of the kind could at this time be attended with good, but only with evil.

I limit this discussion to the subject of gradual [211] emancipation, because the reasons by which we invalidate this doctrine will, a fortiori, disprove the doctrine of immediate emancipation.

It is said that a system of gradual emancipation succeeded well in the Northern States, and that it would succeed equally well in the Southern. But I deny the assumption in each case.

There never was a large slave population in the Northern States, owing to the unsuitableness of the climate. The question arises, How did this system operate with the few they had? It is well known that the owners anticipated the time appointed for the law of emancipation to go into operation, and sold their slaves in the South! This law only operated to transfer the slaves, for the most part, to a climate and soil more congenial to their constitution and habits. The operation of the scheme, therefore, resulted only in the emancipation of a few of the whole number, (see Lecture I., page 22;) and these few, as has been proved, have, by the social, and, we may add, in many instances, by the municipal regulations of the States within which they reside, been essentially injured by the change instead of benefited. Hence the scheme did not succeed well in the Northern States. And can it be assumed that it would succeed better in the Southern States? On the contrary, the result would be much more fatal [212] in the Southern, for the reason that we have a much larger African slave population than existed in the Northern States at the time their emancipation laws were adopted. Now, suppose (what, however, can scarcely, if at all, be allowed a supposable case) that all the Southern States should simultaneously pass laws, providing for the gradual emancipation of the slaves, and hence, ultimately, effect their emancipation, as provided for by law, for the reason that there would be no market open for the sale of them, as was the case when the scheme was attempted at the North: even in such a state of things, you cannot fail to perceive that the propriety of such a measure turns entirely upon the truth or error of a position already discussed.

If my position be correct, (and it is evidently Established by the facts adduced in the preceding lecture,) that their mental imbecility and moral degradation is such that, whilst it remains a fact that for physical and uncontrollable causes they cannot amalgamate, any material addition to our present number of free colored population would result in their extermination, humanity, leaving all other reasons out of the account, would forbid the measure! Nor can I persuade myself that there is an emancipationist, however fanatical, this side the strange delirium of a deliberately wicked [213] purpose to do wrong, who would not “pause upon the brink of this Rubicon,” when assured that the Southern people generally believed that extermination would, in all probability, be the result of his priceless experiment.

But it is extremely idle to suppose that all the Southern States would simultaneously pass such a law; nor does the scheme assume that they would do so. No: the plan advocated is, that the District of Columbia, and the States of Delaware and Maryland, should first emancipate their slaves; then Virginia, then Kentucky, then Missouri, and so on, until the work should be consummated by a gradual process, requiring several years in each State. Let us now inquire what this plan promises.

If the owners of slaves in the States which first in order passed such a law, did not anticipate the time of its taking effect, (as in the case before referred to,) and sell them in the States where no such law had, as yet, been passed, the result would be, as already stated, an accumulation of free colored population, with its inevitable consequences. But this would certainly not be the general operation of such a law. For if cupidity should not prompt a different course, the owners, foreseeing the results of such an accumulation of free colored population, both to the whites and [214] the blacks, would anticipate the law, in by far the greater number of instances, and sell their slaves in the States in which no such law had been passed. Still, many, no doubt, would not take this course: a want of forecast, and most generally a mistaken notion of humanity, would prevent its adoption. In this way, we cannot hesitate to believe that the accumulation of free colored population would be so great as to induce their extermination at no distant day. This calamity could be averted only by a sale of the slaves into some other State in anticipation of the law providing for their manumission.

Now, whatever of mere selfishness there may be in the proposed measure, nothing is more certain than that it is entirely destitute of all humanity for the slave, and of all just regard to his progress in civilization, and his more speedy elevation to moral fitness for freedom. For by the tile this work had progressed through the District of Columbia, the States of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, and, it might be, North Carolina and Tennessee, the far greater part of the numerous slave population of the whole country would be accumulated in the remaining States of the South and South-west. This would be the inevitable result. For the free-soilers, it seems, are determined, if the effect of agitation [215] can accomplish it at the ballot-box, that there shall be a cordon of free States, formed by the newly acquired territory of New Mexico and California; and in this case there would be no further outlet for the retiring slave.

Let us now inquire what would be the effect of the accumulation of the race within the limits of a few States:

At present, that element of slavery which is properly called domestic, confers incalculable advantages on the slave. By this feature of the system, as it now operates, the slaves are distributed in small numbers in different families. There they are brought, every one of them, into more or less of immediate contact with a high state of civilization. Many of them pass the early part of their lives in the dwelling-houses, and around the tables and firesides of their owners, and in the midst of all the company visiting the house. Others are engaged in field and mechanical pursuits, requiring frequent intercourse with the whites. Their Sabbaths are often spent (and it is daily becoming more and more so) in the midst of our worshipping assemblies. In all these ways, to go no farther, they enjoy the means of improvement, and are making daily progress in civilization. This, without doubt, is the plan indicated by Providence, as affording the most natural [216] means of accomplishing their ultimate fitness for a more desirable form of civil liberty.

That it cannot be said of any material portion of them that they have thrown off the incubus of preceding ages of barbarism, may be true; yet it is equally true that their progress in civilization, and that in an increasing ratio, is perfectly obvious to any man whose age and acquaintance with the race would entitle his opinion to credit. Any old man amongst us is prepared to speak of the great improvement of slaves within thirty or forty years past. The domestic element of the system has accomplished this improvement, and will certainly in process of time greatly elevate the race above what it now is; and they are now a very different people from their forefathers who first came into this country. I have no hesitation in believing that it is the grand design of Providence that they shall be thus fitted (the far greater portion of them) for position in Africa as the source of civilization to that long-benighted continent.

Now, to take from the present system its domestic element, or, what is virtually the same thing, to place it under such disabilities as to prevent its benevolent results, would arrest the progress of African civilization, and put off his moral elevation for ages to come. And this is precisely the effect which the accumulation of all the slaves of [217] the whole country within the limits of a few States must have. The domestic element of the system would be effectually crippled, if not entirely destroyed. A large number of slaves would be congregated on single plantations. The whole territory would be in the possession of but a few wealthy planters. They would chiefly reside in the cities and more healthy districts of the country. Their plantations would be under the control of stewards. The steward and his family (usually small) would constitute the whole white population on a plantation, numbering, as would often be the case, several hundred slaves; and the same state of things would exist, to a greater or less extent, through large districts of country. This would be a condition of the race essentially different from that in which they are placed by the present system; and we cannot fail to perceive that they would be well-nigh cut off from all contact with civilization. Instead of continuing to rise in the scale of civilization, as they will do under the present system, they would begin at once to relapse into the barbarism of their original pagan state. This result would be inevitable-only so far as their downward progress might be arrested by the occasional voice of the self-sacrificing missionary, calling to the altars of Christian worship! Would this be humane? Rather, would [218] it not be brutal? Yet such would be the result of the scheme of “gradual emancipation!”

There is, however, another result of this pseudophilanthropy that I need not omit to mention: the removal of the slaves from the States named, and the extermination of the remaining free colored population, should they be found to exist (as it is most likely they would) in numbers so great as to constitute a nuisance requiring summary abatement, would make a fine opening for the enterprising farmers of the Northern States to come in and possess these fertile hills and valleys, abounding in wealth and blessed with a most salubrious climate. It would also afford a fine outlet for their own menial population, which threatens so many and serious results to them — the papal vice and ignorance from Ireland and the continent of Europe, which is now flooding the free States. How far these lofty considerations may constitute items in the catalogue of motives which prompt the political agitators of the country to press the subject of African emancipation, I pretend not to say One thing, however, I may say in behalf of the Southern people, and that is, that as they have no idea of perpetrating these cruel wrongs upon the unfortunate race which Providence has thrown amongst them, so they expect to have no use for those depraved and [219] perishing menials. They prefer the slaves, in any view of the subject. We may conclude, then, that the position established is not weakened in any degree by considerations of either direct or gradual emancipation. No: the emancipation and removal to Africa of those, and those only, whose moral and social condition entitles them to a higher form of political freedom, as the voluntary act of the individual owner, is the only natural and safe method of emancipation. It affords the only hope of Africa, and of the African in America.

The proposition discussed, and, I think, clearly established, relates to the essential propriety and the fitness of the system of domestic slavery as an institution. Whether this institution is capable of improvement, and, if so, what improvements are demanded by the progress of civilization, are questions quite independent of any thing yet discussed. These topics may engage our attention at a future period in these lectures. I would only remark, in this place, that the system has undergone great modifications since its adoption. Laws and usages that were, no doubt, eminently adapted to the extremely barbarous character of the race, when first brought into the country, have long since become obsolete, and the same may be said of many subsequent regulations. Even the stringent measures adopted on the rise of abolition [220] excitement in late years, have had but a brief authority. The progress of civilization is the same in its results in this case as in that of any other people. As a state of barbarism yields to the light of civilization, men are more and more disposed to do right, and the laws and usages which were before necessary to compel them to do right, are thereby superseded, and soon grow into disuse. Hence, many of our Northern citizens who form their opinions (as many do) of the practical character of this institution at the present day from the historical account of the laws and usages of a former period, regardless of the fact that they have become, for the most part, obsolete, entertain a very incorrect opinion. The institution at this day is a very different affair, practically, from what they suppose it to be, judging, as they do, from the laws and usages appropriate to a more barbarous condition of the race.

I have no hesitation in affirming that in by far the greater number of instances, the condition of Southern families, embracing domestic slaves, is much better (that is, both whites and blacks) than that of the larger number of Northern families, with hired domestics, on large farms. The labor is much less severe, and the discipline much less strict. The Northern family has more frequently to appeal to the authority of civil law, and to the [221] right of dismissing unfaithful servants, than the Southern has to appeal to domestic discipline. And still further, the Southern domestic is practically, in all respects save one, quite as much upon a social footing with the white members of the family as the Northern domestic is with the family in which he is employed, whilst the sympathy existing between these different castes in the Southern family is much greater than that which exists in the Northern.

I acknowledge but one difference in regard to practical social equality between the domestics of these families. The white domestic, from the fact that he belongs to the same race, is capable, by industry and enterprise, of rising to an entire social footing with his employer, whilst the African domestic cannot do so. Although the civil law should confer on him the right to do so, the paramount usages of civilized life, founded upon his physical condition, would forbid it. This advantage, we admit, is above all price; but having its foundation in the wise and inscrutable providence of God, it is without remedy by any means which we can adopt; and, indeed, why should we wish even to alter a condition of things founded in physical nature by Him “who is too wise to err and too good to do wrong,” simply because to our limited view of the Divine economy it presents [222] points of friction which, viewing them from another stand-point, we should desire to avoid! But aside from this advantage, I feel free to affirm, that in every neighborhood which is brought permanently under the influence of the apostolic precepts enjoining the relative duties of master and slave, the practical working of the system secures to the African a higher degree of essential happiness than is found to exist with the whites who fill the menial offices of society in the free States. No white man can be satisfied with the position of a menial in society. Perpetually chafed by the chains which fetter all his attempts to rise in the scale of social equality, he is the subject of a constant and painful irritation. Every failure in an enterprise which promised to elevate him to social equality with those around him, is a new cause of heart-burning and jealousy of all about him, and often an overwhelming source of temptation, not only to distrust the providence of God, but to employ the political franchise to unsettle the foundations of society, by levelling down the whole to a common platform. Hence the agrarian doctrines which find embodiment in various social organizations in the free States. Nothing but that religion which both teaches the duty and imparts the moral power to “be careful for nothing, but in every thing to give thanks,” and in every condition [223] in which Divine Providence places us, “there — with to be content,” can reconcile a white menial to his condition in such a country as ours. The government itself can only be secure in a republic so long as a pure Christianity (for that only can do it) operates to elevate the social condition of those laboring classes who would otherwise be menials, or reconcile them to a station to which the accident of birth, miscarriage in business, or inferiority in intellect, inevitably consigns them in the competition of business life; or so long as pure religion shall so operate as to leave the balance of political power with those who are either so elevated or so reconciled to an inferior condition. But little, if any thing, of all this, so far as it relates to our colored menials, is to be found at the South. Always conscious of their intellectual inferiority (I speak of the masses) from constant contact with the superior moral power of the whites, and equally conscious that their physical condition is an impassable bar to all social equality by marriage, they not only do not aspire to it in their feelings, but, in all cases in which they are treated as the Scriptures require masters to treat their servants, they learn to be contented with their lot, and, looking to their owners as their lawful and safe protectors, become affectionately attached to the whole family, and, dismissing all care, are the most [224] cheerful and, indeed, merry class of people we have amongst us. A slave who did not think more of himself, and feel himself to be better off; in all respects, than the state which agreed with his idea of what he calls “poor white folks” and “free niggers,” really would not be worth having as a house servant in any Christian family of my acquaintance. Indeed, in freedom from care, and all the elements of a mere temporal happiness, the slaves of an enlightened and well-ordered family are often in a much more desirable situation than the heads of the family, who are occupied with the duty of caring for all and of providing for all. For the master of such a family to plod his weary way to daily labor on his farm, with a care-worn countenance, which traces itself in his slow and measured step, whilst the loud laugh of his merry hearted slaves is echoing around him, is no uncommon thing in the South. As to the corroding cares which weigh down the spirits and often bring on premature old age, the condition of heads of families do not perhaps materially differ in any part of our country. But, I repeat, the difference is very great between the menials of families in the free and in the slave States, and this difference is greatly in favor of the slaves of the South. The one--especially in the cities — is often oppressed by a grinding poverty, and an [225] active discontent which is as corroding to the heart as it is dangerous to the state; whilst the other is a stranger, for the most part, to real want — is free from painful cares, contented and cheerful in his condition — adding daily to the progress of civilization and the permanency of the government. The emancipation and removal to Africa of those whose progress in civilization has so far developed their minds as to constitute them exceptions to this remark, for the reason that they are by their moral condition fitted for a higher form of civil freedom, may be allowed as the voluntary act of the owner. But all other schemes of emancipation, whether immediate or gradual, are totally inadmissible. For if successful, for the reason that they cannot share social equality with the whites, they sink in the scale of civilization, and become a nuisance in the community requiring abatement; and if the scheme should prove a failure, the result of the effort can only be, as we have seen, to accumulate large bodies of slaves within small districts of country, cut them off from a more direct contact with civilization, and arrest their progress in improvement. No: emancipation in the popular sense offers no relief to any of the evils, real or imaginary, of African slavery in America; but rather aggravates all that now exist, and threatens to multiply them a thousand-fold. [226] If any in the whole country be moved with sympathy for the race — as many think themselves to be — let them diffuse the charities of a pure gospel through the whole extent of our country. No field was ever more “white to the harvest,” and none perhaps in which laborers could be employed to greater advantage in the cause of humanity. They will promote a charity which shall save the country from discord and civil war. They will give efficiency to those precepts of the Scriptures which enjoin the duties of masters and slaves. By doing this they will lighten the task of masters, and, at the same time, interest them more deeply in all that concerns the welfare of the slave. They will greatly improve the physical comfort of the slaves, and, what is of far greater importance, they will develop their moral natures, and therein add to their present cheerful and contented state, the enjoyment of that religion which, as it fits them for the higher walks of life on earth, at the same time fits them for the rest of heaven. In a word, they will effect all that the most devoted friend of the slave can reasonably desire. For in this state of advanced progress, whatever modification of the system or change in either the condition or location of the race may be demanded by sound principles, will be readily adopted, and as peaceably effected. Thus the long-disputed problem [227] of emancipation will be found to solve itself, But instead of this active and efficient service in the cause of humanity, to stand aloof and pronounce silly and sluggish invectives — for such they really are — against the South, for not following the example of certain Northern States in manumitting their slaves,--which, by the way, we have shown they never did to any material extent,--is calculated only to produce an irritation which must result in the most incurable prejudices. These invectives are often founded upon certain abstract principles of political philosophy which are usually misunderstood, and still more frequently misapplied to the South. Such men, together with the nature and results of their labors, are graphically described by the Apostle Paul, as “proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil-surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness.” The whole paragraph from which this quotation is made--1 Tim. VI. 1-5--is commended to particular attention. And I submit, that if the apostle understood the subject of domestic slavery, either as a philosophical or a practical question, the class of men now engaged in agitating our country on the subject do not!

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