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Lecture III: objections considered.

  • Objections classified
  • -- popular views discussed -- “all men are born free and equal” -- “all men are created equal” -- “all men in a state of nature are free and equal” -- and the particular form in which Dr. Wayland expresses the popular idea, viz., “the relation in which men stand to each other is the relation of equality; not equality of condition, but equality of right” -- remarks on Dr. Wayland's course -- his treatise on moral Science as a text-book.

it is now appropriate to consider some of the speculations in Moral Science which may be supposed to invalidate the position discussed in the preceding lecture. As far as they have come under my notice, they all belong to one class. The general objection may be thus stated: Slavery is an abridgment of rights to which the enslaved are entitled by nature; or, more logically, slavery is an abridgment of inalienable rights. This doctrine is expressed in different forms of language, but is essentially the same in meaning. It is with the [61] popular view of this subject that I propose to deal in this lecture. Hence I shall restrict my remarks, in the first place, to the objection as it usually exists in thought, and notice several popular forms of expression :

1. “All men are born free and equal.”

Until within a few years past, this dogma was stereotyped in all the text-books of the country — from the horn-book to the most eminent treatise on Moral Science for colleges and universities. From the days of Jefferson until now, it has been the text for the noisy twaddle of the “stump-politician,” and the profound discussions of the grave senator in the Congress of the United States. If this dogma, as it generally exists in thought, be true, it will follow, that any and every abridgment of liberty is a violation of original and natural right — that is, inalienable right. Hence every system of slavery must be based upon a false principle. The popular sense in which this language is generally understood, from father to son, is evidently the literal sense. But taken in this sense, the doctrine is utterly false. For men are born in a state of infancy, and grow up to the state of manhood; and infants are entirely incapable of freedom, and do not enjoy a particle of it. They are not, therefore, born equally free, but in a state of entire subjection. They grow up, it is [62] true — if they be not imbeciles — to a degree of mental liberty, that is, the liberty of arbitrary volition in. the plain matters of right and wrong, and hence are accountable; but the degree of this liberty, or how far they are thus mentally free, depends upon the accident of birth, education, and numerous coincident circumstances, which destroys all equality of mental freedom; and as to equality in other respects, it is scarcely a decent regard to the feelings of mankind to affirm their equality. They are not physically equal. No two men will compare exactly in this respect. They are not politically equal. The history of all human governments, throughout all time, shows this. To be “hewers of wood and drawers of water,” in unequal and subordinate positions, to the few, has been the lot of the great mass of mankind from the days of Adam. But, says the “socialist,” (to whom the doctrine is far more creditable,) “this latter is precisely the state of things we deprecate, and affirm that such was never the intention of Deity, but that it is his will that there should be no such inequality among men; that his will is in itself the right; and what it is his will we should be, it is right for us to be, and it is our right to be; and that system which makes our condition other than this, deprives us of our rights.” This is the philosophy of socialism. [63]

Now it is true that much of the inequality of condition among men is owing to an abuse of the superior power which intelligence confers upon the few; but this admission does not advance the cause of socialism. For if it were allowed that the will of God is the only rule of right — that is, in itself the right, instead of this, that that which in itself is the right is the will of God--it will not help the argument. For, on this hypothesis, the will of God is the only rule of right, as on the other it conforms to the only rule of right; so that on either, the will of God may be taken as a certain rule of right. What then does he will? In regard to the present subject of inquiry, we can only judge what he wills from that which he has done. Now we have seen that he has not endowed the souls of men with equal capacity, nor has he even placed them in circumstances of providential equality, favorable to an equal development of the unequal capacities he has given them. Superior intelligence is the condition of inequality. Where this exists, there is essential inequality, and practical inequality cannot usually be avoided. Hence superior and inferior, and cognate terms, are found in all languages, and the conditions they represent are found amongst all people. Hence inequality among men is the will of God; and if his will is the rule of our rights, we have no abstract [64] right to equality. It is rather our duty to submit to that inequality of condition which results from the superior intelligence or moral power of others. Superior physical power may, for a time, give us the ascendency; but things will find their level. Superior intelligence will ultimately bear its possessor to his destined eminence. A state of oppression is not one of inequality merely. It is one in which superior intelligence has degraded and afflicted those who rank below it, in an inferior condition; or it is an instance in which, by the aid of brute force, those of inferior condition have, for a time, risen at the expense of those of superior intelligence. If we are oppressed, in either of these ways, we have a right to complain, because our oppressors violate the will of God concerning us — violate our rights; but we have no right to complain of inequality merely. Inequality is the law of Heaven. He who complains of this is not less unwise than the prisoner who frets at his condition, and chafes himself against the bars and bolts of the prison which securely confines him!

But if the dogma in question cannot be made to serve the cause of truth, it has often been made to serve the cause of policy. Many there are who have not scrupled to use it as a tocsin to call together a clan, not their inferiors merely, but so degraded in their inferiority, that, for the price of [65] being honored with the distinction of “free and equal fellow-citizens,” they have been ready as menials to bow their necks to their masters, debase themselves, dishonor the state, and insult Jehovah!

2. “All men are created equal.”

This is only another form in which the social philosophy is pleased to express its one idea. We need only notice the additional error acquired by the change of language. “All men,” it is said, “are created.” It is written in the first of Genesis, that “God created man in his own image: in the image of God created he him : male and female created he them.” The term “man” is, of course, to be understood in its generic sense, and all that is affirmed is, that God directly created Adam and Eve, and all their posterity seminally in them; and from whom, therefore, they have proceeded, as to both soul and body, by generation, and not by a separate act of creation by Jehovah. Now of these two created beings, one was placed in direct and immediate subordination to the other; and although it be true, as it often practically is, that the fall has reversed this order of things, and placed the wife at the head of affairs, still the doctrine of headship, the doctrine of inequality, prevails in the one case as in the other. It is not amiss, however, to remark in passing, that even so great and humble a man as the Apostle Paul [66] preferred the old-fashioned doctrine: he insists that we observe the original order of things : “I suffer not a woman to usurp authority over the man ;” 1 Tim. II. 12; “but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.” 1 Cor. XIV. 34.

As to other points in this dogma, they have been already treated. We only add that philosophy, no less than religion and true patriotism, cannot fail to regret that a dogma setting each of their claims aside, and teaching the purest agrarianism, and that under the most deadly form — the form of pure abstract truth--should have found its way into that immortal instrument, the Declaration of American Independence. We cannot otherwise account for it than by the fact that one of the presiding minds of that great paper had become strongly tinctured with the infidel philosophy of France.

3. “All men in a state of nature are free and equal.”

This is the form of words by which that great man, Locke, involved himself in the doctrine of socialism. The school of philosophy has freed itself of the errors of Locke, and of much of the infidelity of Hume which those errors precipitated upon the world. The error now under notice, in the unsettled political state of France, was seized [67] upon by the Communists: infidelity and anarchy followed. From them, it was consecrated in an abridged form of words in the greatest state paper that was ever written,--the “Declaration of Independence,” --and incorporated into the popular language of the American people, and, indeed, into that of every people where the English language is spoken. Great and good men, who abhor the folly of socialism, do not scruple to assert that the true theory of all governments is, that they are an abridgment of original and natural rights; forgetful of the fact that it is from the fountain of socialism that they draw their original supply of ideas. Those of the republican type maintain that the government should be founded upon the concessions of the majority, and that any thing else is tyranny. I propose to deal with this idea in a future lecture. I now only consider the dogma in the literal sense — the form in which it exists in popular thought.

Literally, what is the state of man by nature? and, Is he free and equal in that state? We can conceive of man as existing only in one or the other of two states; one of which is his natural state, and the other merely hypothetical: that is, the simple, or individual state, and the complex, or social state. To conceive of men in their simple state, or as not in a state of society, is to conceive [68] of them as existing as mere individuals : that is, without connection or relation one with the other. Is this the natural state of man — the state intended for him by nature? Certainly not. It is not known to history, any more than to us, that any set of men ever existed in this way. This, then, is a merely hypothetical state. In reality, there never was such a state of things, and never will be. Indeed, on the hypothesis that such was the original state of men by nature, or as intended by the Lord, it would follow as a mere truism that each one of those separate individuals was free from control by any one or all of the others: that is, they were all free and equal. That this truism expresses the truth of the case, no doubt exists in the thought of a great many; but they overlook the hypothesis which makes it a hypothetical truism, merely because it never had any existence in fact, and never can have.

To conceive of men in the social state is to conceive of them in their relations to each other. Hence it is a complex state. Several ideas enter into this state — not only individuality, as in the former case, but also contiguity of time and place, variety, and often contrariety of relations, together with all the ideas which, as sequences, grow out of these. Now, a leading idea involved in this state, and inseparable from it, is the idea of government: [69] that is, the political is inseparable from the social state. These various and conflicting relations must be defined by certain rules, carrying the full idea of control. Without this, these relations could not operate in harmonious agreement for a single day. Now, as the natural state of man is the state for which he was made,--the state to which alone his entire nature is adapted,--there can be no dispute, the social state is the natural state of man. “And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone: I will make him an helpmeet for him.” He was made, then, for society, and society was immediately furnished him. But the law of relation, we find, was coincident with the relation itself: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife.” Gen. II. 24. And so also, every one born into the world was born in a state of society — the social state — and has always existed in this state : that is, under government. But we have before proved that a state of slavery is fundamental in the complex idea of government. There is, there can be, no government without it. Therefore, the natural state of man, or the state to which he is adapted by both his mental and physical constitution, is a state of slavery in combination with liberty, which is the complex idea of government. [70]

4. “The relation which men sustain to each other is the relation of equality: not equality of condition, but equality of right.”

This is the form in which Dr. Wayland prefers to express the doctrine of equality.1 He explains himself thus: “Each separate individual is created with precisely the same right to use the advantages with which God has endowed him as any other individual.” From this position, as thus explained, he deduces an argument the force of which, without expressing it in so many words, is constructively made to pervade the whole performance. For his whole argument may be embodied thus: the government which places an individual in any other condition than that of political equality is an odious tyranny: the government which establishes domestic slavery does this, and is therefore an odious tyranny.

Now, the proposition, as he explains it, may be admitted as a truism; but then the doctrine of essential equality of right will not follow from such an admission: that is, social and political equality. For what if it be true that “each separate individual has precisely the same right to use the advantages with which God has endowed him?” It only follows that each one has a [71] common right in this respect merely, but not that there is an essential equality of right in any available sense in which we are accustomed to understand the phrase. For if so, it will follow that brutes have an essential equality of rights with men, and that both men and brutes have an essential equality of rights with angels. This is not pushing the argument too far in either direction. For brutes, in a sense well defined by Dr. Wayland himself, have rights. No one but a moral brute would deny the right of his fellow-creature — the brute — to appropriate an accessible bucket of refreshing water to slake his burning thirst. Nothing is more certain than that brutes, men, and angels have a common right to appropriate the advantages with which God has endowed them. Brutes could not have lower, and angels could not have higher, rights in this respect. But surely it cannot be said that this common right confers on brutes, men, and angels, essential equality of rights in any practical sense whatever; for then it will follow that brutes, men, and angels have an equal right to social and political equality — a bold and reckless absurdity.

We admit that one man has a common right with each and all other men in the respect stated; but not that they have common rights in other respects. The common right to use our “advantages [72] to promote our happiness” will not constitute us equals in any proper sense, unless our advantages be equal. Now, Dr. Wayland himself allows, in the very terms of his proposition, that men are not equal in condition--that is, not equal in advantages. And nothing is more obvious than that men are not equal in that intellectual and moral condition which would enable them to use certain social and political advantages for the benefit of themselves and others: consequently, upon his own admission, they would have no right to them. Unless, then, it can be shown that God has endowed all human beings with intellectual and moral capacities sufficiently developed to enable them to be used for the common welfare, they have no right to what we call political freedom. But it is unquestionable that men are not universally nor even generally so endowed. It is not the case with minors. Political freedom is withheld from them by the laws of all States, for the obvious reason that it is not among the privileges which God, as yet, endowed them with the ability to use for the common welfare. Still, no one, so far as we are aware, ever dreamed that minors were herein abridged of their natural rights, and that government and parents were “odious tyrants” because they subjected them to one of the known forms of domestic slavery! We are not surprised, [73] therefore, that Dr. Wayland found himself compelled to admit that minors were exceptions to his rule; which, however, he had argued as universal — universals admit of no exceptions.

Again, it is not true of barbarians, through any of the stages of barbarism. At no period are they in that state of intellectual and moral development in which they could use for the common welfare the blessings of civil freedom, as understood and enjoyed by a highly civilized people. If they were, they would not be barbarians, but a civilized people, to whom the right of civilization — political freedom — would inure.

Now I assume here, what I shall prove in a future lecture, that the African came into this country in a state of extreme barbarism; and that, in the judgment of Southern people — whom prejudice itself can hardly deny are honest and the only competent judges in this matter — they are still as a race, in a state of semi-barbarism, to say the least. If we are right in this position, they also are an example of persons who are clearly not entitled to the rights which inure only to a state of civilization. With what propriety, therefore, could any decent man, whose object is not to insult, affirm that we are “odious tyrants,” for withholding from the African the rights which are appropriate only to a state of civilization: unless [74] he were prepared first to show that we are wrong in our position as to the question of fact, that they are still in a state of semi-barbarism, and, therefore, not entitled to civil freedom?

How shall we characterize the course of Dr. Wayland! After drawing an ingenious argument through many pages of his performance: appealing to the facts and principles of Holy Scripture: not failing, in the progress and application of his false position, to stigmatize the system of African slavery as an odious tyranny, and this for the obvious purpose of degrading the Southern States of this Union in the eyes of the whole civilized world: then, when he is confronted, as he necessarily was, in the progress of his own argument, by the only material fact in the whole discussion, he adroitly evades all consideration of it whatever! On page 216, fourth edition, he states the position of the South, that the “slaves are not competent to self-government,” and shortly replies, “This is a question of fact which it is not the province of Moral Philosophy to decide.” Why then did he decide it by an application of his false position to the South? Echo answers, Why?

Had he confined the application of his principles to the rights which belong to a civilized people, we should have no cause to complain; or had he adduced facts to invalidate the position of the [75] South in regard to its African population, we should be bound to regard him as maintaining an honorable discussion; or, yielding this point, had he attempted to define that form of government most appropriate to a mass of semi-barbarians, dwelling in the midst of a highly civilized people, with whom they could not amalgamate; or, declining this, had he frankly confessed his incompetency (as indeed will really appear upon a discussion of his basis principle) to do justice to the subject of Moral Philosophy at this point at least — in either case we should be bound to respect his effort. But departing, as he evidently does, from all these obvious lines of duty in the pathway of his desolating errors, and inflicting so deep a wound upon the feelings of the whole Southern community, it must be allowed that our charity is heavily taxed in accounting for his course. lie can have no cause to complain that we adopt the opinion that he has permitted an early prejudice to grow into a feeling of fanaticism, so fixed as to warp his judgment on points of very simple application in Moral Science.

Dr. Wayland's treatise is a text-book in many of our literary institutions and he himself is eminently distinguished both in the religious and literary world. Such a text-book, thus endorsed by both piety and learning put into the hands of our [76] young men, could rarely fail of its object — especially if the professor concur in enforcing its doctrines. This is frequently the case in Northern institutions, and has often occurred in Southern; and where it has not, the professor, as a general thing, is either silent, or he concedes the doctrines of the text, and rests the defence of the South upon the false position, that “she cannot help herself!” The assumption that God has placed men in circumstances in which they cannot avoid a violation of his own immutable principles of right, may be so entirely overlooked, as to leave the doctrines and arguments of the text to work an increasing conviction that there is moral wrong in African slavery. If this state of things continue, we must not be surprised if abolition fanaticism should have a still more rapid growth in our land.

1 Moral Science. Part II., Division I — Reciprocity.

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