Slavery before the Revolution.
Vice, whether individual or general, is ever conceived in darkness and cradled in obscurity.
It challenges observation only in its hardy maturity and conscious strength.
Slavery is older than Civilization — older than History.
Its origin is commonly referred to war — to the captivity of the vanquished, and to the thrift and clemency of the victor, who learns by experience that the gratification of killing his prisoner is transient, while the profit of sparing him for servitude is enduring; and thus, ill rude ages, not merely the vanquished warriors, but their wives and children, their dependents and subjects, were accounted legitimate “spoils of victory,” along with the lands, houses, flocks and herds, the goods and chattels of the conquered people.
“Woe to the conquered!”
is the primary rule of savage and of barbarian warfare; and the captivity of the Jews in Babylon
, the destruction by Rome
of Capua, of Carthage
, and of other cities and peoples which had provoked her special enmity, prove that nations which regarded themselves as far advanced in civilization, were hardly more merciful than savages, when maddened by fear and hate.
War wastes and devastates.
The earth, plowed however deeply with cannon-wheels, yields uncertain harvests; yet armies and their dependents must be fed. Rapacity, as well as destruction, seems almost inseparable from war. The soldier, impelled to destroy for his chief's or his country's sake, soon learns to save and appropriate for his own. The natural and necessary distinction between “mine” and “thine” becomes in his mind confused, if not obliterated.
The right of every one to the product of his own labor is one which his vocation incites, and even compels, him to disregard.
To enslave those whom, whether combatants or otherwise, lie might justifiably kill, appears to him rather an act of humanity than of injustice and wrong.
Hence, the warlike, conquering, dominating races of antiquity almost universally rejoiced, when at their acme of power and greatness, in the possession of innumerable slaves.
Slavery of a mild and gentle type may very well have grown up insensibly, even in the absence of war. The patriarch has shelter and food, with employment for various capacities; and his stronghold, if he be stationary, or his tents, if he be nomadic, become the refuge of the unfortunate and the destitute from the region around him. The abandoned wife, the unwedded mother, the crippled or infirm of either sex,
the tender orphan, and the out-worn, seedy prodigal, betake themselves to his lodge, and humbly solicit his permission to earn bread and shelter by tending his flocks and herds, or by any other service to which their capacities are adequate.
Some are accepted from motives of thrift; others under the impulse of charity; and the greater portion of either class, exulting in their escape from hunger, cold, and nakedness, gladly remain through life.
Marriages are formed among them and children are born, who grow up adepts in the labor the patriarch requires of them, contented with their station, and ignorant of the world outside of his possessions.
If his circumstances require a military force, he organizes it of “servants born in his household.”
His possessions steadily increase, and he becomes in time a feudal chieftain, ruling over vassals proud of his eminence and docile to his will.
Thus it has been justly remarked that the condition of Slavery has ever preceded the laws by which it is ultimately regulated; and it is not without plausibility that its champions have contended for it as a natural form of society — a normal development of the necessary association of Capital with Labor in Man's progress from rude ignorance and want to abundance, refinement, and luxury.
But Slavery, primarily considered, has still another aspect — that of a natural relation of simplicity to cunning, of ignorance to knowledge, of weakness to power.
before his melancholy decline and fall into devil-worship, truly observed that the capital mistake of Rob Roy
was his failure to comprehend that it was cheaper to buy the beef he required in the grass-market at Glasgow
than to obtain it without price, by harrying the lowland farms.
So the first man who ever imbibed or conceived the fatal delusion that it was more advantageous to him, or to any human being, to procure whatever his necessities or his appetites required by address and scheming than by honest work — by the unrequited rather than the fairly and faithfully recompensed toil of his fellow-creatures — was, in essence and in heart, a slaveholder, and only awaited opportunity to become one in deed and practice.
And this single truth, operating upon the infinite varieties of human capacity and culture, suffices to account for the universality of slaveholding in the ante-Christian ages, for its tenacity of life, and for the extreme difficulty of even its partial eradication.
The ancients, while they apprehended, perhaps adequately, the bitterness of bondage, which many of them had experienced, do not seem to have perceived so vividly the corresponding evils of slaveholding.
They saw that end of the chain which encircled the ankle of the bondsman; they do not seem to have so clearly perceived that the other lay heavily across the throat of even his sleeping master.
— if we may take Pope
's word for it — observed that
Jove fixed it certain, that whatever day Makes man a slave, takes half his worth away;
but that the slaveholding relation effected an equal discount on the value of the master appears to have escaped him. It is none the less true, however, that ancient civilization, in its
various national developments, was habitually corrupted, debauched, and ultimately ruined, by Slavery, which rendered labor dishonorable, and divided society horizontally into a small caste of the wealthy, educated, refined, and independent, and a vast hungry, sensual, thriftless, and worthless populace; rendered impossible the preservation of republican liberty and of legalized equality, even among the nominally free.
, with his lantern, might have vainly looked, through many a long day, among the followers of Marius
, or Catiline, or Caesar
, for a specimen of the poor but virtuous and self-respecting Roman citizen of the days of Cincinnatus
, or even of Regulus
The Slavery of antiquity survived the religions, the ideas, the polities, and even the empires, in which it had its origin.
It should have been abolished, with gladiatorial combats and other moral abominations, on the accession of Christianity to recognized supremacy over the Roman
world; but the simple and sublime doctrine of Jesus and his disciples, of Paul
and the Apostles, had ere this been grievously corrupted and perverted.
The subtleties of Greek
speculation, the pomp and pride of imperial Rome
, had already commenced drawing the Church
insensibly further and further away from its divine source.
A robed and mitered ecclesiasticism, treacherous to humanity and truckling to power, had usurped the place of that austere, intrepid spirit which openly rebuked the guilt of regal, voluptuous Herod
, and made courtly Felix
The prelates of the lately persecuted Church were the favored companions and counselors — too often, alas!
the courtiers also — of Emperors and Caesars; but they seldom improved or risked their great opportunity to demand obedience, in all cases, to the dictates of the Golden Rule
had become an estate above the people; and their just complaints of the oppressions and inhumanities of the powerful were not often breathed into its reluctant ears.
White Slavery gradually wore out, or faded out; but it was not grappled with and crushed as it should have been.
The Dark Ages, justly so called, are still quite dark enough; but sufficient light has been shed upon them to assure us that the accord of priest and noble was complete, and that serf and peasant groaned and suffered beneath their iron sway.
The invention of Printing, the discovery of America
, the Protestant Reformation
, the decline and tell of Feudalism, gradually changed the condition and brightened the prospect of the masses.
Ancient Slavery was dead ; modern Serfdom was substantially confined to cold and barbarous Russia
; but African Slavery — the slavery of heathen negroes — had been revived, or reintroduced, on the northern coast of the Mediterranean, by Moorish traders, about the Tenth Century, and began to make its way among Spanish and Portuguese Christians somewhere near the middle of the Fifteenth.2
The great name of Columbus
indelibly soiled and stained by his undeniable and conspicuous implication in the enslavement of the Aborigines of this continent, so improperly termed Indians
Within two years after his great discovery, before he had set foot on the continent, he was concerned in seizing some scores of natives, carrying them to Spain
, and selling them there as slaves.3
His example was extensively followed.
The fierce lust for gold, which inflamed the early adventurers on his track, incited the most reckless, shameless disregard of the rights and happiness of a harmless and guileless people, whose very helplessness should have been their defense.4
Forced to hunt incessantly for gold, and to minister in every way to the imperious appetites of their stranger tyrants, they found in speedy death their only relief from intolerable suffering.
In a few years, but a miserable remnant remained.
And now the western coast of Africa
was thrown open to replace them by a race more indurated to hardship, toil, and suffering.5
Religion was speciously invoked to cover this new atrocity with her broad mantle, under the plea of relieving the Indians from a servitude, which they had already escaped through the gate of death.
But, though the Papacy was earnestly importuned to lend its sanction to this device, and though its compliance has been stoutly asserted, and was long widely believed, the charge rests upon no evidence, is squarely denied, and has been silently abandoned.
For once, at least, avarice and cruelty have been unable to gain a sacerdotal sanction, and compelled to fall back in good order upon Canaan
But, even without benefit of clergy, Negro Slavery, once introduced, rapidly, though thinly, overspread the whole vast area of Spanish and Portuguese America, with Dutch
and French Guiana and the West India Islands
; and the African slave-trade was, for two or three centuries, the most lucrative, though most abhorrent, traffic pursued by or known to mankind.7
It was the subject of
gainful and jealous monopolies, and its profits were greedily shared by philosophers, statesmen, and kings.8
When, in 1607, the first abiding English colony — Virginia
— was founded on the Atlantic coast
of what is now our country, Negro Slavery, based on the African slavetrade, was more than a century old throughout Spanish and Portuguese America, and so had already acquired the stability and respectability of an institution.
It was nearly half a century old in the British West Indies
, Portuguese, and British vessels and trading companies9
vied with each other for the gains to be speedily acquired by purchasing, or kidnapping, young negroes on the coast of Guinea
, and selling them in the American
colonies of their own and other nations.
The early colonists of Virginia
were mainly adventurers of an unusually bad type — bankrupt prodigals, genteel spendthrifts, and incorrigible profligates, many of whom had left their native country for that country's good, in obedience to the urgent persuasion of sheriffs, judges, and juries.
All were intoxicated by the common illusions of emigrants with regard to the facilities for acquiring vast wealth at the cost of little or no labor in the Eden to which they were attracted.
Probably no other colony that ever succeeded or endured was so largely made up of unfit and unpromising materials.
Had it not been backed by a strong and liberal London company, which enjoyed for two or three generations the special favor and patronage of the Crown, it must have perished in its infancy.
But the climate of tide-water Virginia
is genial, the soil remarkably fertile and facile, the timber abundant and excellent, while its numerous bays and inlets abound in the choicest shell-fish; so that a colony that would fail here could succeed nowhere.
Tobacco, too, that bewitching but poisonous narcotic, wherewith Providence
has seen fit to balance the inestimable gifts of Indian Corn and the Potato by the New World to the Old
, grew luxuriantly on the intervals of her rivers, and was eagerly bought at high prices by the British
merchants, through whom nearly every want of the colonists was supplied.
Manual labor of all kinds was in great demand in the English
colonies; so that, for some time, the
banishment thither of felons from the mother country seems to have provoked no serious objection.
That such a colony, in such an age, should have existed thirteen years prior to the introduction of Negro Slavery, indicates rather its weakness and poverty than its virtue.
The probability is that its planters bought the first slaves that were offered them; at any rate, the first that they were able to pay for. When the Pilgrim Fathers
landed on the rock of Plymouth
had already received and distributed her first cargo of slaves.11
There is no record of any serious opposition, whether on moral or economic grounds, to the introduction of slaves and establishment of Slavery in the various British
, and Swedish Colonies, planted along the coast between the Penobscot
and the Savannah rivers
during the succeeding century.
At the outset, it is certain that the importation of negro chattels into the various seaports, by merchants trading thither, was regarded only with vague curiosity and marvel, like that which would now be excited by the experimental introduction of elephants or hippopotami as beasts of burden.
Human rights, in the abstract, had not yet been made a theme of popular discussion, hardly of philosophic speculation: for English liberty, John Hampden
had not yet poured out his blood on the battle-field, nor Algernon Sidney
laid his head on the block.
The negroes, uncouth and repulsive, could speak no word intelligible to British or Colonial ears, when first imported, and probably had a scarcely clearer conception of their own rights and wrongs than had those by whom they were surrounded.
Some time ere the middle of the Seventeenth Century, a British Attorney-General
, having the question formally submitted to him, gave his official opinion, that negroes, being pagans
, might justly be held in Slavery, even in England
The amount of the fee paid by the wealthy and prosperous slave-traders
for this remarkable display of legal erudition and acumen, is not recorded, but it probably included a liberal consideration for wear-and-tear of conscience.
Two or three decisions from British courts were, at different times thereafter, obtained, substantially echoing this opinion.
It was not till 1772 that Lord Mansfield pronounced, in the ever-memorable Somerset
case, his judgment that, by the laws of England
, no man could be held in Slavery.
That judgment has never since been disturbed, nor seriously questioned.
The austere morality and democratic spirit of the Puritans ought to have kept their skirts clear from the stain of human bondage.
But, beneath all their fierce antagonism, there was a certain kinship between the disciples of Calvin and those of Loyola.
Each were ready to suffer and die for God's truth as they understood it, and neither cherished any appreciable sympathy or consideration for those they esteemed God's enemies, in which category the savages of America
and the heathen negroes of Africa
were so unlucky as to be found.
The Puritan pioneers of New England
were early involved in desperate, life-or-death struggles with their Aboriginal neighbors, in whom they failed to discover those poetic and fascinating traits which irradiate them in the novels of Cooper
and the poems of Longfellow
Their experience of Indian ferocity and treachery, acting upon their theologic convictions, led them early and readily to the belief that these savages, and by logical inference all
savages, were the children of the devil, to be subjugated, if not extirpated, as the Philistine inhabitants of Canaan
had been by the Israelites under Joshua.
Indian slavery, sometimes forbidden by law, but usually tolerated, if not entirely approved, by public opinion, was among the early usages of New England
; and from this to negro slavery — the slavery of any variety of pagan barbarians — was an easy transition.
That the slaves in the Eastern
colonies were few, and mainly confined to the seaports, does not disprove this statement.
The harsh climate, the rocky soil, the rugged topography of New England
, presented formidable, though not impassable, barriers to slaveholding.
Her narrow patches of arable soil, hemmed in between bogs and naked blocks of granite, were poorly adapted to cultivation by slaves.
The labor of the hands without the brain, of muscle divorced from intelligence, would procure but a scanty livelihood on those bleak hills.
He who was compelled, for a subsistence, to be, by turns, farmer, mechanic, lumberman, navigator, and fisherman, might possibly support one slave, but would be utterly ruined by half a dozen.
Slaveholding in the Northern States
was rather coveted as a social distinction, a badge of aristocracy and wealth, than resorted to with any idea of profit or pecuniary advantage.
It was different southward of the Susquehanna
, but especially in South Carolina
, where the cultivation of Rice
and Indigo on the seaboard had early furnished lucrative employment for a number of slaves far exceeding that of the white population, and whose Sea Islands afforded peculiar facilities for limiting the intercourse of the slaves with each other, and their means of escape to the wilderness
and to the savages.
, a century ago, was as intensely, conspicuously aristocratic and slaveholding as in our own day. But when Slavery had obtained everywhere a foothold, and, in most colonies, a distinct legal recognition, without encountering aught deserving the name of serious resistance, it were absurd to claim for any colony or section a moral superiority in this regard over any other.
The single and most honorable exception to the general facility with which this giant wrong was adopted and acquiesced in, is presented by the history of Georgia
That colony may owe something of her preeminence to her comparatively recent foundation; but she is far more indebted to the character and efforts of her illustrious founder.
was born in 1688, or 1689, at Godalming
, Surry County
; entered the British
army in 1710; and, having resigned on the restoration of peace, was, in 1714, commended by the great Marlborough
to his former associate in command, the famous Prince Eugene of Savoy
, by whom he was appointed one of his aids.
He fought under Eugene in his brilliant and successful campaign against the Turks in 1716 and 1717, closing with the siege and capture of Belgrade
, which ended the war. Declining to remain in the Austrian service, he returned, in 1722, to England
, where, on the death of his elder brother about this time, he inherited the family estate; was elected to Parliament for the borough of Hazelmere, which he represented for the ensuing thirty-two years, and, becoming acquainted with the frightful abuses and inhumanities which then characterized the British
system of Imprisonment for Debt, he devoted himself to their reform, and carried through the House
an act to this end. His interest in the fortunes of bankrupt and needy debtors led him to plan the establishment of a colony to which they should be invited, and in which they might hope, by industry and prudence, to attain independence.
This colony was also intended to afford an asylum for the oppressed Protestants of Germany
and other portions of the continent.
He interested many eminent and influential personages in his project, obtained for it a grant of nearly ten thousand pounds sterling from Parliament, with subscriptions to the amount of sixteen thousand more, and organized a company for its realization, whereof the directors were nearly all noblemen and members of Parliament.
Its constitution forbade any director to receive any pecuniary advantage therefrom.
Being himself the animating soul of the enterprise, he was persuaded to accept the arduous trust of governor of the colony, for which a royal grant had been obtained of the western coast of the Atlantic
from the mouth of the Savannah
to that of the Altamaha
, and to which the name of Georgia
was given in honor of the reigning sovereign.
The trustees were incorporated in June, 1732.
The pioneer colonists left England
in November of that year, and landed at Charleston
in January, 1733.
Proceeding directly to their territory, they founded the city of Savannah
in the course of the ensuing month.
, as director and vice-president of the African Company, had previously become
acquainted with an African prince, captured and sold into slavery by some neighboring chief, and had returned him to his native country, after imbibing from his acquaintance with the facts a profound detestation of the Slave-Trade and of Slavery.
One of tile fundamental laws devised by Oglethorpe
for the government of his colony was a prohibition of slaveholding; another was an interdiction of the sale or use of Rum-neither of them calculated to be popular with the jail-birds, idlers, and profligates, who eagerly sought escape from their debts and their miseries by becoming members of the new colony.
The spectacle of men, no wiser nor better than themselves, living idly and luxuriously, just across the Savannah river
, on the fruits of constrained and unpaid negro labor, doubtless inflamed their discontent and their hostility.
As if to add to the governor's troubles, war between Spain
broke out in 1739, and Georgia
, as the frontier colony, contiguous to the far older and stronger Spanish settlement of East Florida
, was peculiarly exposed to its ravages.
, at the head of the South Carolina
militia, made an attempt on Saint Augustine
, which miscarried ; and this, in 1742, was retaliated by a much stronger Spanish expedition
, which took Fort St. Simon, on the Altamaha
, and might easily have subdued the whole colony, but it was alarmed and repelled by a stratagem of his conception.
soon after returned to England
; the trustees finally surrendered their charter to the Crown; and in 1752 Georgia
became a royal colony, whereby its inhabitants were enabled to gratify, without restraint, their longing for Slavery and Rum. The struggle of Oglethorpe12
was aided by the presence, counsels, and active sympathy, of the famous John Wesley
, the founder of Methodism, whose pungent description of Slavery as “the sum of all villainies,” was based on personal observation and experience during his sojourn in these colonies.
But “another king arose, who knew not Joseph ;” the magisterial hostility to bondage was relaxed, if not wholly withdrawn; the temptation remained and increased, while the resistance faded and disappeared; and soon Georgia
yielded silently, passively, to the contagion of evil example, and soon became not only slaveholding, but, next to South Carolina
, tile most infatuated of all the thirteen colonies in its devotion to the mighty evil.