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Lecture XII: the conservative influence of the African population of the South.

  • Preliminary remarks
  • -- American party -- the present and prospective condition of our country -- the large number of voters in the free-soil States who will be under a foreign influence, political and religious, inducing them to discard the Bible and the right of private judgment -- the freedom of the Southern States from this anti -- Christian and anti-republican influence -- the presence of the African race in the Southern States secures them this advantage -- the unpatriotic policy of free-soilism

we have seen that nowhere throughout the South have the masses of our African population given evidence of the first intelligent conception of political freedom. As to insurrections, we are freer from their disturbing influences than are the communities of many of the Northern States from the progress of a no less dangerous influence — the agrarian spirit which pervades a somewhat similar portion of society. We of the South fear them less; and we have less cause to fear them. On, [258] this score they make a useless expenditure of sympathy on our behalf. It may be demonstrated that, without a singular interposition of Divine Providence, the South (using the term, as I generally do, for all those States which maintain the system of domestic slavery) will, ere long, be called upon to protect the liberties of the North from the progress of agrarianism, whilst there is not the remotest probability that these will ever be called on to protect the South from the insurrectionary movements of their blacks. I repeat — no! no people in the whole country who fill the menial offices of society are more contented than our blacks, or as much so. There are none who less feel their condition to be oppressive, or who have as little cause to feel it so.

In discussing the proposition enunciated, it is proper to premise, that if I should be found to agree to any extent with the “American party,” whose “councils” are now attracting so much attention, as to the. accumulation of a dangerous influence in the country, I find the chief remedy (whatever may or may not be true of those proposed by this party) in a providential arrangement which seems not so much to have engaged public attention.

I propose to submit a brief sketch of the present and prospective condition of our country. [259]

We live in a country of vast geographical extent. A large portion of it is uninhabited. It is, however, rapidly filling up. Immigrants from every section of the civilized world are rapidly arriving in our eastern cities, and spreading to remote sections of our republic: men of every conceivable variety of taste, disposition, and opinion, both in politics and in religion. The fertility and abundance of our soil, and the variety of our staple articles of produce, have attracted universal activity and enterprise. To compare the civilized world to one vast city, our republic seems destined to become the great market or business-street of it. Here, all is bustle and activity. Nowhere on the face of the globe is so much energy of character displayed. No attentive observer can fail to perceive the tendency of all this to call off the mind from those moral and intellectual pursuits that so eminently fit men for the sober duties of life and the felicities of heaven. The public mind is already kept in a state of most unnatural excitement, stimulated in the highest degree to the pursuits of wealth and political distinction, to the almost-entire neglect of every other interest. This is daily becoming the supreme attraction, to which the popular impulse yields as readily as the unfortunate ship obeys the resistless circles of the maelstrom. [260]

Thus far, it is true, we have succeeded to “lay that broad foundation of modern society which promises the noble superstructure of rational liberty. But regarding the tendencies of this restless people, looking at the growth of our own improvidence, and at the copious additions which overstocked and perishing Europe is daily sending us, in multiplied forms of ignorance and superstition, insomuch that in many respects in our Northern States our republican fabric is fast changing and passing away before our very eyes, who can exult in the certainty of success! Who will not despair, except so far as he may be sanguine that a tone and energy of moral effort is put forth, equal to that which achieved our national liberties! For if this be not done, in a day we may go down into hopeless bondage! The physical battle of our liberties has been fought and won, and we are fast rushing up to unparalleled eminence; but from this dizzy height, if we be not sustained by some conservative power, we shall go down in a moment to the degradation of slavery. For let it be remembered that whilst liberty may be achieved by the sword, it cannot be maintained by the sword. Enlightened principles and moral excellence alone can maintain the liberty that force achieves.”

I say nothing of that large class of foreign [261] population whose education and pecuniary resources enable them to come among us from a choice of our institutions, and the other means of happiness which this great country affords. 1 bid them all welcome. They add alike to the permanency and strength of our institutions. Nor do I say any thing against that unfortunate multitude which accompanies these, whose ignorance and vice compel them, reluctantly or not, to seek their bread in our fruitful country. So far as we may be able to receive them, I rejoice that we have a home for them. But it is obvious that our safety can be found only in our ability to absorb them into our political body, and impart our character to them; and in those providential arrangements which shall sustain us through the protracted process. Without these, there is no ground to hope for success. For what power is that which (in the language of another) “has been fitly styled the ‘terror of Europe’ --the power that has sent earthquake after earthquake, rolling under the deep foundations of governments, till they have rocked to their basis, and tottered to their fall? It is the order, or rather the mass of vicious ignorance and poverty which has there accumulated for ages.” This maniac power must continue to work its extended desolations in Europe, except so far as it may be enervated by [262] expanding on the wilderness of North America. It is fortunate for Europe that this enfeebling process is rapidly going forward; but it is most unfortunate for us that we are destined soon to concentrate a power which Europe is so happily expanding. We are destined, ere long, to become a great manufacturing, as well as commercial and agricultural people. Our condition is soon to condense millions into cities and manufacturing districts, where, as in Europe, from the class of population flowing in upon us, a distinct class of menial poverty will be formed, “imbecile of mind, and inapt but for one employment.” 1

Nor is this all. It lays no claim to prophetic honor to venture the prediction, that the youth of our country who shall survive the next half century, will witness that which many will not believe, “though a man declare it unto them.” But reasoning from the past, or from well-established principles of political economy, it is morally certain that our present population of twenty-three millions will then have swelled to near one hundred millions. “Agriculture, commerce, and manufactures will have expanded their resources [263] and powers of production to an inconceivable extent. The various portions of our country will be linked together by railroads, canals,” telegraphic wires and by some other--God knows what!--as yet undiscovered means of connection. Already, the cities of our Atlantic coast converse freely, by means of “lightning post-boys,” with their next-door neighbors — the cities of the great Mississippi valley! “Flourishing cities are now lifting their spires in the hitherto pathless wilds of Iowa, Oregon,” and California, and will soon be in telegraphic connection with those of the East. Who can doubt that in less than ten years the prediction of an eminent son of Virginia, J. E. Heath, Esq., will be verified: “American steamships from the cities of our Western coast shall strike off in the path of the setting sun, and following that burning luminary where he dips his glowing axle in the waters of the Pacific, return in the short space of thirty or forty days, laden with the commerce and population of China, and the isles of the remotest West!” 2

Can any man doubt the political and commercial changes that will then follow throughout the civilized world? But who can estimate the extent of these changes? Who can tell the result upon the [264] political and moral destiny of this great country? Who can tell the end of that commercial revolution by which a large portion of the tea trade of China, now in the hands of that greatest of all monopolies — the British East India Company, contributing largely to the support of the British government — shall be transferred to American bottoms, and flow into this country through our cities on the Pacific coast! Already the walls of pagan China have bowed to the thunder of British cannon, and the deep foundations of her ancient government are destined at no distant day to yield alike to American enterprise and American liberty. Thousands of her perishing population — indeed, already they come!--shall, ere long, flow in from the West, and meet the vast tide of papal superstition and vice that has been long setting in from Europe on the east. I am free to own that I contemplate this period with profound amazement! I know not the extent of the vision that confounds me. And when I turn my eyes to the canvas of Divine inspiration, and decipher its unerring pencillings, I cannot doubt that the strange elements that even now are so rapidly combining, and that are soon to concentrate the maddened powers of pagan ignorance, and papal superstition and vice, in the heart of this republic, are, ere long, to make my native land the great [265] theatre of those eventful battles — the conflicts of truth and error in both politics and religion — so graphically described in the apocalyptic vision of John. And as I believe in the truth of the prophecy, and confide in the promise of Heaven, I cannot doubt the result. But mark you, “the peril of our condition — the peril of that state of things on which our children may be but just entering!” This conflict is to be the more or less fierce, the more or less disastrous to those who shall immediately sustain its calamities, as they shall be the more or less prepared for it. And what are the great agencies that shall prepare us for a successful conflict? What is it that shall give comparative mildness to this great moral and perhaps physical conflict that awaits our children, or the want of which shall arm it with all the terrors of a barbarous warfare? But one answer can be given to these questions. The general education of the sovereigns of the land, and the conservative influence of our institutions, or perdition, is the alternative.

Upon the importance of the great educational movement of the country, I need not remark just now; nor need we notice in this connection the conservative influence of our free institutions, or rather the tendency of the great principle of liberty, (as embodied in our civil and religious institutions,) [266] which, with all true Americans, is a kind of instinctive belief, to diffuse itself through the mass of society. The two together may justly be regarded as forming a bulwark of American liberty, upon which the intelligent mind of the country may repose with great confidence. But still, history scarcely leaves us room to doubt that a politico-religious priesthood, firmly established in the superstitious devotions of a strong minority even of menials, who at the same time are political sovereigns, presents fearful odds in the strife of principles with the “man of sin.” Nor need we be surprised at this. A large mass of our population — however they may constitute but a minority of the whole population — have been educated from their cradles in the firm belief that it is a sin, involving the damnation of the soul, to read God's word, or to exercise private judgment upon any matters which such a priesthood may choose to affirm are taught therein, and who are equally established in a superstitious opinion and feeling of devotion and submission, not only to its right to decide all such matters, but also its authority to punish with the highest spiritual torments all who shall heretically disregard its decisions. This power has proved itself an overmatch for the genius of liberty in the states of Europe. Thrones and kingdoms have fallen before it. To this day the despots of [267] Europe hold their sceptres in virtue of a league with it. Louis Napoleon exercises despotic sway over a large portion of as free a people in their opinions and sentiments on all subjects without the range of priestly dictation and dogmatism as can be found on the globe. But how does he do it? He crushed the measures of liberty in Italy, and restored the Pope to his throne. And why? Not only because a republic in Italy would be a dangerous neighbor, but also because he needed the authority of the priesthood to enforce the politico-religious dogmas upon which alone his despotic throne could repose with safety! Thus a large community who are among the most enlightened and devoted friends of liberty, are ruled by a grinding despotism; and this is only an instance in which the genius of liberty is crushed and trodden under foot by the man of sin. “Education and the genius of liberty have done much in Europe, and are daily struggling against fearful odds; and may do much more in this country to modify and restrain this power, but they are impotent to its destruction. It is, in itself, so entirely contradictory of all liberty, and at the same time so full of vitality, that God in mercy has only relieved the despair of the world by the assurance that he would destroy it. Thus Paul says:” The man of sin, who opposeth and [268] exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he, as God, sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God--whom the Lord shall Consume with the spirit of his Mouth, and shall destroy with the Brightness of his coming. “2 Thess. II. 1-12. The world has no hope of relief from the oppression of this nightmare of superstition, but that which is found in this promise of God, that the word of his truth shall overthrow and utterly destroy this monster power, which for so many ages has been the terror and the scourge of the civilized world. The Bible--the word of God--freely circulated, read, and expounded, and freely judged of by all who read or hear, according to the dictates of their own judgments and consciences — this is the religion of Protestants! in exact antagonism to the teachings of the man of sin.” The triumph of the Bible is the overthrow of his power.

Now, the Bible is not only being circulated, and its truths enforced from the pulpit, but a great many arrangements of Divine Providence are in constant operation, not only to secure the prevalence of Bible truths in our land, but also to place these truths in such circumstances as shall secure the permanent establishment of civil and religious liberty. Of these arrangements of Divine Providence, we may select as germane to the general [269] subject of discussion, the conservative influence of the system of domestic slavery.

That providence of God, by which so large a number of the States of this Union have been supplied with a population who cannot be absorbed by the body politic, but must exist among us, and for so long a time, in a distinct and menial position, provided the means of safety to the whole Union in the coming conflict which is already awakening the fears of the country. If we do not greatly mistake the signs of the times, it is to these States that all eyes and all hopes will be turned as the great bulwarks of American liberty. The African race in these States will give them this advantage of position.

Review the facts of the case. As to that class of population coming into the country with that liberty of choice which intelligence and pecuniary means afford them, the whole land is before them, and few are more welcome than they, whatever may be their errors in religion. But relatively, they make but a small portion of the whole number. The great mass of this coming population necessarily seek the menial offices of society as the only means of living. This evil is already sorely felt in some portions of our country; and as our unoccupied lands shall be filled up by Western as well as Eastern immigration, this will [270] be still more generally and deeply felt. For all these are absorbed by the body politic, and form a part of the sovereignty of the country.

But what portion of our country is it which now suffers, and is chiefly threatened in future with this heavy calamity? Not the South! This is evident. Our menial offices are already occupied by a race which cannot be absorbed, and who therefore can never form a part of the sovereignty of the country. Hence, there is no room for the menials of either Europe or China. The door of Providence is closed against their admission. The foreign population which finds its way into the South are, for the most part, a valued and welcome class of society. No: it is in the midst of the Northern States, and those new States which repudiate the African race, that these shoals of vice, superstition, and ignorance — these hordes of modern Canaanites — are gathering, “thick as the frogs and flies of Egypt.” Upon these States, and not upon the South, this great and increasing calamity is to display its strength. Are they destined to control the primary schools to a great extent, from which they exclude the Bible, and educate a large mass of the population to abandon the inherent right of private judgment on all matters which the priesthood may please to define — whether correctly or not — as matters of religion: [271] that is, to abandon those rights of conscience which are guaranteed to every citizen by the constitution of our country? Already, many of these schools are thus controlled, and a large portion of the citizens are thus being educated in the city and State of New York, and other places 1 But nothing of this sort can exist to any extent in the Southern States. So far as popular education is promoted in these States, it must be strictly Protestant education — Protestant, at least, in its main feature: that is, every citizen brought up among us grows up in the educated belief that, whatever aid he may seek or derive from a gospel ministry, he is still individually and personally responsible to God and his country, for his opinions and his practices, both as to politics and religion. He should, therefore, read, reflect, and judge for himself. No “man of sin,” in the shape of pope, bishop, priest, minister, or preacher of the gospel, or with any other title, has authority to “oppose and exalt himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped,” by dispensing either political or religious beliefs; “so that he, as God, sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God:” enforcing his right to control the consciences of men, by severe spiritual and temporal penalties — reaching even to “anathema maranatha!” No material portion of Southern [272] sovereigns can ever grow up in such an utter abandonment of all liberty, whilst the African race shall fill the menial offices of society. All this, however, and perhaps much more, is reserved for those States which repudiate this race. And still further, Is all this calculated to corrupt the purity of elections, as it has done in many sections of New England and the State of New York, and eminently so in the cities of New York and Cincinnati?--and is this evil also destined to reach the national Legislature, either directly, as the result of numerical strength, or indirectly, as the action of a powerful minority, holding the balance of power between contending political parties, and, in either case, sooner or later, seriously threatening if not precipitating evils upon the whole country, of which the oppressions of many of the States of Europe now furnish us the mournful examples! But no such influence can ever reach, to any material extent, the ballot-boxes of the South. With an educated sovereignty, we have only to consummate our triumph over intemperance, and our elections are at once fair exponents of the will of an enlightened people. Our people may err in opinion, but, always right in sentiment, and with no motive to stay wrong, they may, in due time, be put right in opinion also. The Southern States may be labored by the [273] tempests that shall break upon them from other sources, but not from this, which its history in Europe shows to be the most terrible calamity that ever scourged humanity. With their ships well trimmed and their sails well set, and both worked and governed by an educated sovereignty, it is morally impossible that they should founder in the open sea of free discussion. These States, therefore, will remain, and shall ever remain, through all this fierce conflict, free to settle the great quarrel of the country between light and darkness, between religion and a vile superstition! Upon these States will devolve the duty of holding the balance of power between these great contending forces, and of preserving the ark of American liberty in the politico-religious storms that are to sweep over the land, and shake the foundations of our confederacy.

In view of all the facts, we are at no loss to account for the agrarian doctrines and organizations which are already so common in the Northern States, and which are essentially so entirely subversive of all true liberty. Nor are we at a loss to account for the fact that the Southern States have always, to the present time, stood forth as the authors and uniform expounders of the soundest democratic principles of republican freedom. They owe it, and will for ages to come [274] continue to owe it, not so much to any superior devotion to sound principles above that of their intelligent and unbiased brethren of other States, but to the fact that only a small portion of their menial population are, or ever can be, sovereigns. The great mass of their menials belong to a distinct and inferior race, who never can be absorbed, and who, therefore, are not and never can become sovereigns of the land. The conservative influence, therefore, of the African race in the Southern States, I set down as a fixed fact, for which, in the prospective condition of the country, we have abundant cause to be devoutly thankful to Almighty God.

In view, therefore, of the condition of the Africans themselves, as well as the calamities which overhang the country, how idly do they talk who would expel the Africans from these States! How madly do they reason who, by a cordon of free-soil States, on the West and South, would shut up the Southern States--as if, with bolts and bars, they would cage a savage beast! False philosophers! Enemies alike to justice and humanity! Worse than Nadab and Abihu, in the republic of Moses! Kindred to Ahithophel and Judas, and, in later days, to Benedict Arnold! The day will come — passing events cast their long “shadows before” --when history will record the [275] civilization of all Africa, and the final solution of the problem, and the permanent establishment of American liberty. A sound philosophy will be at no loss to trace both one and the other to the agency, and that in no small degree, of that wonderful scheme of Divine Providence, by which so large a number of Africans were introduced into so many of the States of North America. Ay<*> and long before that day, the North will learn to do justice to their brethren of the South. When the fight shall wax warm, and the “battle-cry” shall be heard throughout all their coasts, then will it be seen and acknowledged that the Southern States--always great in the counsels of the nation — are always, and everywhere, the true friends; and invincible supporters of Protestant freedom, or the rights of conscience; and then shall they do justice to these States as the chief bulwarks of American liberty, and equal honor to that wonderful providence which has so signally marked their history, for good to the whole country, as well as to the continent of Africa.

1 Some years ago, a pamphlet fell into my hands, written by some one whose name, if I ever knew it, I have forgotten. I think it likely that this language, or much of it, is to be credited to that pamphlet.

2 Literary Messenger.

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