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Lecture VII: the institution of domestic slavery.

  • The question stated
  • -- the conduct of masters a separate question -- the institution defined -- the position of the abolitionists and that of the Southern people -- the presumption is in favor of the latter -- those who claim freedom for the blacks of this country failed to secure it to those on whom they professed to confer it -- the doctrine by which they seek to vindicate the claim set up for them, together with the fact of history assumed to be true, is false.

having proved that the abstract principle of the institution of domestic slavery is a legitimate principle, both in itself, and in this, that it coincides with the great fundamental principle of right, and does not necessarily conflict with the right, and is therefore in itself good, and not evil; the next inquiry that arises is this: “Is the institution of domestic slavery, existing among us, and involving this principle, justified by the circumstances of the case, and therefore right?” --according to the doctrine evolved in the second lecture, namely, that the [154] principle of an action, being itself right, the action is right, provided other and coincident principles justify the action, or, as we usually say, provided the circumstances require it.

Let it be observed, that the conduct of individual slaveholders, in the exercise of any discretion conferred on them by the nature of their relation as masters, is still a separate question, and not here to be taken into the discussion. We inquire as to the propriety of the institution: Is it demanded at all by the circumstances of the case? This is eminently a practical question, and is the only one which involves the morality of the institution itself, now that the abstract principle is shown to be legitimate.

Domestic slavery is one of the subordinate forms of civil government. It may be defined an imperium in imperio--a government within a government: one in which the subject of the inferior government is under the control of a master, up to a certain limit defined by the superior government, and beyond which both the master and the slave are alike subject to control by the superior government. The question now arises, Is this a suitable government for the negro race in America? Without doubt, this question is to be settled on the same general principles by which we should settle a similar question in regard to [155] the suitableness of any other form of government for any other people. For example, the same principles which determine the fitness of a military despotism, a constitutional monarchy, or a democratic republic, to any particular community of white persons, will determine the suitableness of this form of government to the African race in this country. They are all different forms of control, belonging to the same genus-government; and pervaded by the. same generic elements — the principles of slavery and liberty combined in different ratios, in order to secure the greatest amount of happiness to those communities to which they are fitly applied. The claims of the African might be separately examined in regard to each of these forms of government; but this course is not demanded by the interests of this discussion. Nor need we stop to inquire, how the Africans came into this country: whether lawfully or unlawfully — whether by their own act, or the act of another. These are in truth side issues, and do not necessarily attach to this discussion. They will be treated as incidental to the main question; for although it were allowed that they are here unlawfully, and that it is our duty to remove them, yet it is still true that they are here, and cannot be immediately removed, and must therefore be subjected, as human beings, to [156] some one of the known forms of civil government What form of government shall this be? According to principles well established, and admitted on all sides, it should be such a form of government as, from its adaptation to their intellectual, moral, relative, and physical condition, is best calculated to promote their happiness and the happiness of those with whom they are necessarily associated. But what form of government is it which will most probably accomplish this object?

The anti-slavery party, as well as the abolition faction, claim for the Africans a democratic republic: that is, that they should have equal political privileges with the whites, and only be subject with them to the same modified form of slavery! On the contrary, we of the South maintain that, from their present state of mental imbecility, moral degradation, and physical inferiority, they should be placed under that more decided form of control called domestic slavery. Who is right?

In discussing this question, we take the ground. first, that, in advance of all direct argument, we are entitled to the full benefit of the presumption in argument — the burden of proof lies upon those who dispute our position; and, secondly, that we are right in fact — that the circumstances of the case demand this form of government on behalf of the race, as their right, their blessing; because [157] this form of government, duly and properly administered, as it may be and ought to be, is calculated to afford them the highest, if not the only amount of political freedom and happiness to which their humanity is at present adapted, and especially in view of their existing relations to a higher form of civilization, in the case of those among whom they dwell.

1. We are presumptively right. The onus lies wholly upon those who oppose our position.

In taking this ground, we readily waive the presumption founded upon the mere fact that domestic slavery is an existing institution, and is entitled to stand as good, until the contrary is made to appear. We go back of this. We throw ourselves upon original ground. We say, that if this were now an original question in the country, the presumption would be, that this was the appropriate form of government for the African race in this country.

As an original case, it would be an undisputed fact that the race was in an uncivilized state. We have demonstrated, in a former lecture, that an uncivilized people is not adapted to a state of political freedom. To such a people dwelling in the midst of a civilized people, it could not be a right, because it would not be a good, but an evil, a curse. There is no reason to assume that to [158] place them in this condition would elevate them at once to such fitness as would make it a blessing, but there is every reason to presume that the reverse would follow an elevation to political freedom. If any think otherwise, the burden of proof lies upon him.

This presumption is greatly strengthened by the fact that they who claim political freedom for the Africans now in the country, have signally failed to secure it for those upon whom they have professed to confer it. Essential freedom is inseparably interlaced with social equality. Without the latter, the former cannot possibly exist. The Northern States have long since conferred the forms of civil freedom upon the African portion of their population, but to the present hour they have denied them social equally. Herein, they extinguish all the lights and comforts of essential freedom. They settle upon them a suffocative anhelation, which is truly the most oppressive form of slavery. The social inequality of the races, it is well known, exists in a much more modified form at the South than at the North. That those who have made, as we allow, an honest effort to confer essential freedom upon them, have signally failed, greatly strengthens the presumption that we are right in believing that the end they proposed was impracticable, and [159] that we need not be so unwise as to imitate their folly.

But this presumption is still further strengthened by the fact that the basis argument upon which the abolitionists usually rest the claims of the African, is entirely sophistical. It is this: Slave property was originally acquired by robbery and violence, and therefore can never become lawful property. Hence we should confer upon them political freedom, regardless of whatever consequences may follow; seeing that an act of robbery can never extinguish the original right of the person robbed, or confer original title upon the robber.

The doctrine assumed in this argument is, that possessions unjustly acquired originally, can never become legal possessions; or that a state of things originally resulting from won, can never, by lapse of time, or the force of any circumstances, become right. The fact assumed as the basis of this doctrine in its application to the African is, that they were stolen while in a state of freedom, and reduced to a state of slavery. But we deny both the doctrine and the hypothetical assumption on which it is based.

1. If the doctrine be true, it will follow that all wrong is without any remedy, except in the few cases in which things may be restored to their original [160] state. This would be a deplorable state of things indeed. It would work special disaster to our Northern brethren. For, first, if this doctrine be true, they own scarcely one foot of honest land; nor is there any in the whole country, save the original purchase of William Penn, and a few other unappreciable portions of territory. The Indians were the original and rightful owners of this whole country, according to the theory of rights which forms the basis of this doctrine. From the most of their possessions they were forcibly ejected at the peril of life as well as liberty; and from the remainder they were driven by a policy which in civilized life would be held and treated as knavery. These lands, according to this doctrine, should in all honesty be restored to their rightful owners, or to those who inherit them under their title, or the present holders are robbers. Second. The Africans, it is said, were stolen! If so, those who received them in this country can only be regarded as the receivers of stolen property — no better, if not worse, than the original thieves. But on this hypothesis, Who stole them? and who received this stolen property, knowing it to be so stolen? These questions admit of but one answer: The forefathers of the present generation of New England population! From their ports, vessels were fitted out, [161] and employed in this system of “man-stealing.” They became the receivers of this stolen property. Those who were not demanded by their own agricultural pursuits, were sold in Southern markets. As the climate and soil of the South were better suited to such labor, the larger portion of all this stolen property was accumulated in the South. The product of the lands of New England, and the product of these sales of stolen Africans, have been, from time to time, invested in commercial and manufacturing pursuits. These constitute the chief sources of the great wealth of the New England States, to the present day; and these, it is well known, are mainly supported by the products of slave labor at the South. This being so, the great wealth of the Northern States can be regarded only as so much dishonest gain! Really, it is time they were looking to the duty of restitution! But the disaster of this doctrine does not exhaust itself with our Northern brethren. The Norman Conquest of Great Britain is that by which all the land-titles of England are held to the present day. All these titles are held under the rights acquired by this conquest. Now it is well known that the Norman Conquest was the most lawless piece of injustice and butchery, the record of which ever disgraced the pages of human history! Upon the basis of the doctrine in question, it is equally certain [162] that there is scarcely an honest shilling in all England! Nor is this all: the present titles of all Europe, Asia, and Northern Africa, are traceable, more or less remotely, to a source equally cruel and unjust! Thus there is an end pretty much to all honesty, as to the possessions of the civilized world! Surely, the absurdity of this conclusion is sufficient to invalidate the soundness of the doctrine from which it arises.

Now we are far from affirming that wrong--which is the negative of right--can ever become, by circumstances or any thing else, otherwise than it is, that is, wrong, namely, not right. But the state or thing which, under one set of circumstances, is wrong may, under other circumstances, become right. It is not the wrong in itself which, in such a case, changes to right; but, by a change of circumstances, the wrong no longer inheres, but the right inheres in that which formerly involved the wrong; and therefore the state or thing which was before wrong, now becomes right. Hence, although it be admitted that the land-titles of the civilized world were originally founded in wrong, and therefore were unjust titles, it may not follow that those who now hold them, do so by an unjust title, because the original title was unjust. The facts may be thus stated in regard to the most of them. The titles were originally acquired by [163] wrong; in many instances, cruel wrong! The authors of these wrongs were usually the heads of government, who, in their circumstances, were beyond control. They did the wrong. The ultimate results of their doings, by the lapse of time with its perpetual changes, upset all the existing relations of society, merged the descendants of the actors and sufferers in these wrongs into the mass of society, beyond the power of just discrimination, and introduced an altogether new state of things. Under these circumstances, the original wrong was ultimately placed beyond all remedy. The restoration of the lands to the original and lawful owners became an impossibility. To attempt such a work could only be followed by the grossest injustice to all the parties concerned. In this state of things, the question of title — Who shall own these lands? becomes an original question. And in this state of the case, the simple fact of present possession--there being no one to claim antecedent possession — according to the fundamental belief of all mankind, confers moral title, and should therefore be made legal. Hence the title is just, because the idea of the right in itself — that which is good — now inheres in the man who holds property under such circumstances. The argument authorizes this prescriptive principle in political science: That when the original [164] wrong cannot be remedied, without inflicting greater injury, on all the parties concerned, than to permit the existing state of things to remain, in this state of the case, the existing state of things is in itself right, and should be permitted to remain.

Upon the basis of this principle — without which, we have no scruple to say, society could nowhere harmonize for a single hour — we have no difficulty in vindicating the honesty of the descendants of the Puritans, or the land-titles of the civilized world, or the thousand other titles which are equally involved by the absurd doctrine under consideration. Nor do we find any difficulty in allowing them a just title to all the proceeds of the African traffic, even though it should be conceded that their forefathers were, as they characterize them, a set of mere men-stealers!

Having invalidated this doctrine as a piece of gross sophistry, we remark:

2. That we also deny the hypothesis upon the basis of which this false doctrine has been made to apply to the Africans of this country; that is, we deny that African slavery in this country had its origin or was founded in cruelty and robbery.

There is no reason to doubt the statements of history, that many slave-ships originally (as perhaps is still the case to some extent) acquired [165] their cargoes, some by robbery and violence, and some by purchase. The sufferings of what is called the “middle passage” are, no doubt, correctly stated in history. We have no motive to controvert these statements, nor indeed to inquire into their authenticity. We are not even the apologists of any of the actors in these scenes, much less their defenders. There may have been cruel wrongs, and under circumstances of even greater aggravation than those recorded in history. Be it so! The actors have long since gone to their account, and we may safely leave them to Him who judgeth righteously. The conduct of these agents, whether cruel or kind, is not an element in this discussion. Our inquiry goes to the foundation of this matter — the true producing cause for the introduction of the African into this country, and his position as a salve. What was this? It will not be maintained that these agents, whether humane or not, can in any proper sense be said to be the cause or foundation of African slavery in this country. With much greater propriety it may be said that the artisans of Boston were the founders and builders of the city. They were necessary agents. They might have done their part well. They might have done it dishonestly, cruelly. Neither hypothesis will entitle them to rank as the true and proper founders [166] and builders of the city. So neither are the men in question to be regarded as the founders and builders of African slavery in America. Whether they did their part as they should have done, or should not have done; or whether they did the work at all, or not, is the mere logical accident of a cause, which lay back of all they did, and of all they might have done, whether good or bad. This cause is evolved by the inquiry, Why did they bring them into the country at all? If some potent cause had not been at work, would they or any others have brought them into the country? Certainly not. This cause, then, whatever it was, is without doubt the true foundation, the immediate cause, of African slavery in America. What, then, was this cause? But one answer can be given to this inquiry. On it there can be no division of opinion. It was the state of public opinion in Great Britain, and the state of public opinion in her colonies in this country at the time. This state of public opinion demanded their introduction and employment as slaves, and hence they were introduced and so employed. Whatever demerit or merit, then, was in the origin and maturity of this state of things, is traceable directly to public opinion, and attaches directly as a virtue or a crime, as the case may be, to those who controlled public opinion, through the [167] long period of its inception, formation, and maturity, and to them alone. This being the true origin and foundation of the system, if it had its foundation in robbery and violence, it was because public opinion, through that long period, was so eminently corrupt as to set itself, deliberately and of full purpose, to work to perpetrate robbery and violence, without any redeeming virtue; for such crimes admit of none. Was this so? Can we be prepared to believe it? In default of all history at this point to detail the origin and progress of public opinion on this subject, we are left to form our judgment from our knowledge of the men whom we know to have participated more largely than any others in directing public opinion in their day, and to the history of the times in which they lived.

In the seventeenth century, African slaves were first introduced into this country, and the practice was continued, under the sanction of law, until the years 1778 and 1808, inclusive. At an early period, public opinion was matured on this subject both in England and in the colonies, and we see that for a long period it sustained the practice of introducing slaves directly from Africa into this country. Now, we affirm that the position postulated in regard to this case is among the most palpable absurdities that can be conceived. [168] The character of the men who controlled public opinion in that day, and the patriotic and Christian age in which they lived, utterly disprove the gross assumption that they yielded themselves up to falsify the truth and the conscience that was in them, and become a mere corporation of land-pirates and freebooters! If our ignorance of the history of those times should disqualify us to account for the existence of this state of public opinion on any strictly rational grounds, common sense would forbid that we assign for it so unreasonable a cause as this; whilst the least that charity could suggest would be, that we place it among those things for which we were unable to account.

From the time they were first introduced into the colonies, about 1620, to the time the system may be considered as permanently established, makes a period of some hundred and fifty years. Among the eminent personages who appeared in Great Britain during this period, and did not fail to impress their genius and moral character upon the age in which they lived, we may mention, James I., Cromwell, and William III., Burnet, Tillotson, Barrow, South, with Bunyan and Milton; and also Newton and Locke.

In the colonies, during this time, there lived Cotton Mather, Brainerd, Eliot, and Roger Williams; [169] Winthrop, Sir it. Vane, and Samuel Adams, with Henry, Washington, and Franklin.

These great men, and some of them eminently good men, stood connected with a numerous class of highly influential men, though inferior in position, and all together may be regarded as embodying and controlling public opinion in their day. Some of them were preeminently distinguished for their patriotic devotion to the rights of humanity. Many others were men of wide views on all subjects, and of broad and expansive feelings of benevolence, and indeed of the soundest piety. Add to all this, many of them are to this day without a peer in intellectual distinctions, if indeed the same may not be said of their attainments in literature and science. The age of Barrow, and of Locke, and Newton, in philosophy, and of Washington and Franklin, in patriotism, public benevolence, common sense, and general learning, still stands on the pages of history without a rival. But these men, and their numerous compeers and co-laborers, were no better than a hoard of mountain robbers! They coolly coincided with each other, without formal concert or convention, but by the common attraction of their natural affinity for power and plunder, to murder, rob, and enslave thousands of their innocent and defenceless fellow-creatures — the helpless victims of [170] public cupidity! Such is the shameless position strangely postulated in regard to these men and their times! We scruple not to affirm that this is more than a stupid gratuity! It is a gross calumny upon humanity itself, of which the authors should be profoundly ashamed!

The advantages enjoyed in this day, by the great success which has attended the art of printing — an art for which we are indebted to the genius of a former age — would no doubt afford us a satisfactory history of the rise and progress of public opinion on such a subject, if it were to occur in this age. The state of the art at that period, the proscription of the press, and especially the new and unsettled condition of the colonies, furnishes good cause for the deficiency. We may not, therefore, account for public opinion as satisfactorily now, as might have been done at that time. Still we have abundant materials for a charitable construction of the conduct of our forefathers — both here and in England. The savage, and indeed the brutal condition of the larger portion of Africa, had long since been a matter of history. All well-informed men were familiar with the facts of African history. They were not only Pagans, but Pagans of the most stupid and enslaved kind — without the knowledge of God, or the rudest forms of civilization. The population [171] was divided into tribes, each governed by an ignorant petty king, who ruled his equally Pagan subjects as absolute slaves. In the place of the knowledge and worship of the. true God, which was found to exist among the savages of America, the African worships the devil — the evil spirit, and that by the most humiliating and debasing rites of superstition. His superstitions furnished frequent occasions for wars. These wars were highly sanguinary — often exterminating, as all wars amongst an ignorant and highly superstitious people have always been. To spare the life of an enemy in war, make him a prisoner, guard him as such, or make him labor as a slave for his support, is an a vance of civilization. To continue to put the enemy to death to the end of the war, is the necessary condition of a state of war in uncivilized life. Such was the known condition of all the African population south of Egypt and the States of Barbary. Did not their condition appeal, as it still does, to the benevolence of the civilized world? But what could they do? Send Christian missionaries? No. We, in this country, have succeeded,7 to some extent at least, in civilizing the savage tribes upon our border! But the Indians were not, like the Africans, idolatrous Pagans. Be this as it may, the competency of missionary enterprise to civilize and [172] christianize Pagans, was, as it still is to any very material, extent, an untried experiment. The opinion then obtained, and to this hour it is not wholly invalidated, that to reduce Pagans to a state of labor was, among other agencies, a necessary condition of their civilization. What then could Christians do in that age for African civilization? They could not introduce them as laborers in England, or on the continent of Europe. Such a step would have denied bread to the multitudes who already filled the menial offices of society. It was impracticable to do this, and inhuman to attempt it. Thus for long ages had degraded and enslaved Africa “stretched forth” her imploring hands, appealing to the benevolence of the world for relief. But the wisest and best men of the times saw no means of relief, and attempted none. In this state of African history, colonial settlements were ultimately effected on the coast of North America. At an early period an experiment was made by a Dutch Manhattan, to introduce African labor into the colonies. Here a wide field was open for their labor. It was greatly demanded. To labor here denied bread to no other laboring poor, as would have been the case in England. The idea was caught at in both hemispheres, as a “God-send” for the African — for the colonies, and a common civilization. No one [173] dreamed of robbery, injustice, or wrong to any one! All considered it a wide door which a kind Providence had opened, and which piety itself bade them enter! No man who was worthy of the age authorized any one to fit out a ship, from the port of Boston or elsewhere, go to the coast of Africa, steal a cargo of natives, murder all who stood in the way of his schemes, tumble them into the hold of their ship, without regard to health or comfort, and make their way with their piratical cargo to Boston and other markets, and turn them into money! Those who did this — as many no doubt did — acted on their own responsibility, and have long since given their dreadful account to God! But the men who were worthy of the age, and who would be worthy of any age, did authorize, by a common public opinion, the practice of going to Africa, and negotiating a purchase with those who had long held and treated them as slaves, and especially those who by the usages of barbarous war were condemned to death. They considered that thus to arrest the practice of putting prisoners to death was humane, and worthy of a Christian people; that to introduce them into civilized society, teach them the habits of civilized life, the principles and experience of Christianity, and ultimately perhaps to send them back to regenerate their fatherland, was an achievement [174] worthy of the highest attainments of piety! Hence they had no scruple to purchase them when brought to the country. The most eminently patriotic and benevolent of the colonists purchased them. The most pious members of churches, and distinguished Christian ministers, did the same. The immortal Whitefield did not scruple to sustain his pious foundation in Georgia by a large income, for the times, from slave property. Were they correct in these views? We appeal to facts. Multitudes were brought to the country who had otherwise perished in barbarous warfare, or been murdered as captives, and the others would have remained in a state of Pagan ignorance, superstition, and slavery. By coming into the country, they have been greatly improved in their mental, moral, and physical condition. I do not stay to trouble you with statistical details. But nm investigations warrant a statement, which you can test at your leisure; it is this: the number of Africans who have died in the communion of the Methodist and Baptist churches of America to the present time — and who, therefore, we may assume, were christianized by their residence in this country — exceeds the whole number of all the heathen who have been christianized by the labors of all the Protestant denominations of Christendom since the days of Luther. Hence, [175] we conclude, that whatever were the cruelties of individuals engaged in the original slave trade, (for which they were responsible,) and whatever may have been the abuses of the system since, by individual slave owners, the system itself was originally founded in a profound view of the principles of political science, so far as regards this country, and of political economy, and the claims of Christian benevolence so far as it regards the Africans themselves. The resources of this vast country have been rapidly developed. It is already the asylum of the oppressed, and the home of the poor, of all lands. Slave labor has had no small share in all this. The regeneration of the continent of Africa has already commenced, and the ultimate result is looked to with increasing confidence.

Thus we have invalidated the doctrine, and also the hypothesis, which form the basis on which the abolitionists rest their argument against the justice and policy of the South. That their position is not tenable is no direct proof that ours is right; but it does afford a presumption that we are right. This presumption we claim, for the several reasons given. The direct argument in vindication of the system of domestic slavery, upon its own merits. is reserved for the next lecture.

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