previous next

Lecture IX: the necessity for the institution of domestic slavery exemplified by facts.

  • The attempts made at domestic colonization
  • -- the result of the experiment in the case of our free colored population -- the colonization experiment on the coast of Africa -- the example of the Canaanitish nations -- summary of the argument on the general point, and inferences.

“ that the Africans are not, in point of intellectual and moral development, fitted for that measure of self-government which is necessary to political sovereignty: that political equality cannot be justly claimed for them — they have no right to it: that to them it could not be an essential good, but an essential evil, a curse; and that to confer it on them, by an act of direct or gradual emancipation, would be eminently productive of injury to the whole country, and utterly ruinous to them.”

This is the general proposition still under consideration. [193] We have already discussed to some extent the first two points. I reserve the subject of emancipation for future lectures. I now proceed to exemplify the truth of the positions discussed on this general proposition, and thereby show the actual necessity that we sustain, in the present circumstances of the race, the system of domestic slavery. And,

First. We adduce the fact of domestic colonization.

This has been frequently attempted in the Southern States, and has as often failed for the want of success. Eminently humane, though mistaken men, have tried this experiment with their slaves. Some have tried it on a small scale: standing only as their nominal owners, and giving them the control of their time and labor, and the use of necessary lands for cultivation. Others have tried the same plan on a more extended scale of operations. But if there is a single successful experiment now in operation in the Southern country, I am not aware of it. In every instance the owners have been compelled to resume the control of their slaves, to prevent them from becoming a tax on the community, and a nuisance in the neighborhood.

Second. The result of the experiment in the case of the free colored population, is equally in [194] proof that the race, taken collectively, is not fitted for self-government.

Humane individuals have, from time to time, freed their slaves. In this way a large number has been accumulated. There is not a county in any one of the older States in which there are not many, and in some a large number. In this experiment we have a full test of what the African is in the enjoyment of civil liberty, or of his capacity for self-government, at least in the midst of a people with whom he cannot amalgamate. The result is daily before our eyes, and may be known and read of all men. After a few honorable exceptions, the multitude are by no means as well fed or clothed, and otherwise provided for, as the slaves in their vicinity. They make but little provision against the inclemency of winter, and in sickness are often the objects of public charity. A disposition to live by petty depredations upon society, instead of by honest industry, and a general depravation of morals, are characteristic of the caste. Their retrograde tendency is so obvious, that no doubt is entertained among men of reflection that, but for the props and checks thrown around them by the laws and usages of civilization, they would soon relapse into the savage state. These facts are so obvious as long since to have engaged the attention of our domestics. [195] Among them, the term “free nigger” is one of deepest reproach. Those who respect themselves, it is well known, form no matrimonial alliance with them, from sheer contempt of their degradation. I have frequently met, in my travels, with old men, in independent circumstances, who by the doctrines of the pulpit, enforced by the personal influence of a favorite minister in private life, were induced, in early life, to free their slaves, who now confess, with the result of their mistaken piety before their eyes, that they conferred no boon upon them, but rather inflicted an injury both upon them and upon society. They console themselves with the reflection that they intended all for the best. This picture is not surcharged. You will do me the justice to remember that no dark picture can be drawn without dipping the pencil in dark colors.

I have an interest in a slave, who is no doubt in the moral condition of freedom, as before defined. I have assured this man that he ought to go to Liberia, in Africa, and have insisted on his consenting to go. But still I am so deeply convinced of the truth and importance of the facts here stated in regard to our free colored population, that a sense of duty to him and to the community forbid that he be placed among the number.

But it may be supposed that a popular feeling [196] of selfish hostility serves to crush a people who would otherwise rise at once in the scale of civilization. But this is not so. I repeat, with confidence, this is not so. The honorable exceptions, to which allusion has already been made, are universally respected. “John” (to use a general title) “is as honest a man, and has as much self-respect, as any man in the neighborhood,” is a meed of praise which is readily accorded to free blacks, by all intelligent citizens,. and with peculiar satisfaction, whenever it can be done. Such men of course enjoy the confidence and respect of their white neighbors in a high degree. But, I repeat, that examples of this kind are rare among our free colored population. No! an original cause of this general degradation is found in the fact stated, that is, that they are not prepared for self-government, and therefore can derive but little, if any, benefit from its political and social advantages. The crushing weight of ages of barbarism still presses heavily upon the intellect of the African, and in his present circumstances, to say the least, he is too feeble to rise. It is the accident of his position that he is free, and not the law of his intellectual and moral nature that makes him so. He is a slave in fact; and without the restraints of the domestic system, the tendencies of his barbarous nature are left, in a good degree, to take their [197] downward way. In many counties within our knowledge containing a large population of free colored persons, I am satisfied that nothing but the humanity developed by a high state of civilization, prevents the adoption of a summary process, by which the nuisance would be abated.

But if the objection I am combating be modified and restricted to the influence of that usage which denies them social freedom, I will agree that it has weight. It certainly retards the progress of those who are rising to the moral condition of freedom: hangs like an incubus upon those who have already risen to that state, and effectually shuts the door of enjoyment against them. This is no doubt true. But why are they denied social freedom? The answer is, Because they cannot amalgamate by a spontaneous intermarriage with the whites. But this is a disability under which God, by the nature of their physical constitution, has placed them, and which the progress of civilization itself forbids the whites to disregard. Therefore it is obvious that they never can be free in a community of whites. Because, as there is no essential freedom, but that which is inseparable from social as well as political freedom, and as there can be no social freedom, but that which coincides with the law of amalgamation by intermarriage; and as Divine Providence has closed is [198] the door against this, it follows that the African never can be free in the midst of a community of whites.

But still, that this is not the primary and essential cause of the extreme degradation of those Africans upon whom the experiment of freedom has been tried in this country and found to be a failure, and that it is originally traceable to the fact that they are not, intellectually and morally, prepared for self-government, is still more clearly deducible from a

Third consideration — the colonization experiment on the coast of Africa.

The colony of Liberia has already taken its place among the nations of the earth as a free and independent government. No colony has ever prospered as that has done. As a rising nation, it shares the sympathy of the civilized world. It is destined to become the asylum of the Africans of America, and the centre of civilization to the long-benighted continent of Africa. Thither all eyes are turned as the oasis of hope in her desert history.

But let us briefly trace the progress of this hopeful colony. How has it arisen to its present position? It has been built up from the free colored population of this country — colonized by their own consent. Herein Divine Providence has [199] wisely discriminated the proper subjects for this great enterprise. His own established order of things has effected a judicious discrimination of the proper persons for this work. The sacrifices to be made were great. The climate was inhospitable. Extreme hazard of life, in all cases, was to be encountered in the process of acclimation. A Pagan and savage population were to be encountered and subdued. Every thing gave undoubted indications, that if ever the tree of African liberty should be made to flourish upon that Pagan coast, its roots must be watered by the blood of many patriot martyrs. In these circumstances, it is obvious that there would be no volunteers in this work but men of the right stamp. Those only whose intellects furnished the flint and steel from which the spark of liberty could be struck, and upon the altar of whose hearts the fires of freedom could be kindled, to light their pathway to that far-off and inhospitable land, would embark in this great work. Those who were in the condition of freedom — whose hearts throbbed with the pulsations of liberty — were the first to embark in the cause of African civilization. For several years the work went on — slowly, but surely. Many fell in the conflict. Still the work went on! The spirit which animated the patriot colonists is eloquently expressed in the dying words of the [200] immortal Cox: “Let a thousand missionaries fall, ere Africa be given up!”

Thus far the work went on in the order of Divine Providence. The voluntary principle was discriminating. Those who were in the moral condition of freedom gladly embraced the opportunity. Those who were below that condition were deaf to the call. But this divinely sanctioned process was quite too slow for the fiery zeal of emancipationists. The door of Providence did not open fast enough! Encouraged by past successes, they attempted to hasten the work. Forgetful of the original and avowed objects of the Society — the colonization of the free people of color, with their own consent--the friends of colonization began to preach manumission to the owners of slaves. Many hearkened to the call as a Macedonian appeal to their feelings of benevolence. The slaves upon large plantations were emancipated, and funds placed at the disposal of the Society, to remove and settle them as free citizens in the new colony. They were sent off in considerable numbers, for several years. The result was disastrous. It threatened speedily to reduce the whole colony to a savage state. They were not in the moral condition of freedom — they were not prepared for that degree or form of selfgovernment. They could not be absorbed by the [201] body politic, without imparting their character to the body. The full measure of their golden dreams was simply liberty to do nothing. We need only glance at the results. Mr. Ashman, at that time Governor of the colony, remonstrated, in official communications, with the Colonization Society in this country: the officers generally, and other eminent citizens, also remonstrated in private letters to their friends — all begging to be spared the calamities that awaited them from so great an influx of population, evidently unprepared for freedom, and praying that they might be strengthened, as heretofore, by a judicious selection of persons in some degree, at least, qualified for civil liberty!

If the colonization experiment has proved the capacity of the African, under suitable developments, for self-government, (which, in our view, it has very satisfactorily done,) it has proved, with equal clearness, that without those developments he is wholly unfit for it; and that the masses of the race are, as yet, undeveloped, and consequently unfit for political sovereignty.

These facts are open to the observation of all men. They strongly rebuke the restless agitators of the country. They clearly confirm our position that the Africans in America are not, as yet, in the moral condition for freedom. I have proved [202] in a former lecture that political sovereignty is not a natural but an acquired right. The facts here adduced demonstratively prove that they have not yet acquired this right, and that therefore it cannot be justly claimed for them. But more than this — they afford the strongest presumption (and further than the presumption in its favor, I do not design to notice this topic at this time) that the emancipation of the slaves, in their present moral condition, confers no benefit upon them, but is calculated to inflict a deep injury both upon them and upon society.

It is a general, and indeed an almost universal Opinion in the South, that any thing like a system of emancipation, whether direct or gradual, by which the number of free colored persons should be materially increased in the Southern States, would inevitably be followed by their indiscriminate massacre, as the only means of abating an insufferable nuisance, unless the citizens were to forsake the soil in favor of a barbarous horde. Such an opinion, (I may repeat,) so generally entertained by so large a community of enlightened and virtuous citizens, who are in immediate proximity with the race, and acquainted with their character from early life, taken in connection with the historical facts here enumerated, affording to any mind so clear a proof of the correctness of [203] their opinion, should be admitted as an authoritative settlement of the position I have taken on this branch of the subject. Hence, we may conclude that the law of reciprocity and the law of benevolence require that the Africans be continued under an inferior and subordinate government.

The question again recurs, What form of government shall this be? Of course, it must be a modification of a military despotism, or a modification of the patriarchal form of government. I am free to say that I can conceive of none so appropriate as that adopted by civilization, for the purpose of controlling a barbarous or semibarbarous race (and especially such as could not amalgamate) dwelling in the midst of a civilized community: that is, the system of domestic government now in operation in the Southern States. If any shall devise another, it will, at least, have the merit of novelty to commend it to public attention.

The correctness of the doctrine here assumed, that domestic slavery is the appropriate form of government for a people in the circumstances of the Africans in America, is very strikingly exemplified by the history of the remnant of Canaanites, who still dwelt in the land after its subjugation and settlement by the ancient Israelites. An inquiry into the Divine policy in regard to these [204] heathen will fully vindicate this position. The civil code of a nation is admitted to be the best index of the habits and morals of the people. This remark, however, cannot always be taken without modification. We shall greatly underrate the civilization of the Israelites, who first settled the land of Canaan, if we judge them alone by their civil code. Smiting and cursing father and mother, brutal assaults upon pregnant married women, digging pits to destroy neighbors' cattle, (Ex. XXI.,) seduction, adultery, dealing with familiar spirits and witchcraft, and various wickedness which delicacy forbids to repeat, (see Lev. XVIII.,) unnatural marriages, such as with mothers, sisters, children, and grandchildren, (Lev. XVIII.,) are all practices which are mentioned in a manner that shows they were common in that day. If we judge the morals of the Israelites by the statutes here referred to, we shall certainly conclude that they had not the slightest claim to the character of a civilized people; but it is equally certain that such judgment would be wide of the truth. For although in many respects the national morals and standard of public opinion and feeling were in a feeble condition, as seen in their obvious proclivity to idolatry, still those laws are far from being characteristic of the morals of the nation. The Divine record does not leave us to [205] conjecture the cause for these laws. It is written, Lev. XVIII. “Defile not ye yourselves in any of these; for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you. For all these abominations have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled;” and, “Ye shall not walk in the manners of the nations which I cast out before you; for they committed all these things, and therefore I abhorred them.”

We can be at no loss to see that the remnant of heathen who survived the slaughter, and still dwelt in the land which the Israelites settled, were in such power, and accustomed to such opinions and habits of bestiality, as to render the progress of civilization, in unrestrained contact with them, at least a problem, if not an absolute impossibility.

Equality of political and social condition with the Jews would have made short work of civilization in that age. Hence we find that bold lines of demarcation were drawn between the Jews and those depraved “strangers.” Both political and social equality were forbidden. The Jews were authorized (Lev. XXV.) to make “bond-men and bond-raids” in perpetuity (unlike the slavery of their brethren, which was for a definite period) of the “heathen that were round about them, and of [206] the children of the strangers that sojourned among them; of them they should buy and of their families that were with them, which they begat in the land” --“they should take them as an inheritance for their children, and they should be their bondmen for ever.” The theory of certain pseudophilanthropists of the present day, would have led then to prate loudly in behalf of equality, and the duty and practicability of speedily elevating this people in the scale of civilization. But He who was too wise to err and too good to do wrong, knew better, and ordered differently. Barbarism — long-continued barbarism — cannot be speedily elevated by any contact with the forms of civilization. He who denied them political sovereignty, (except on certain conditions, which clearly indicated such an appreciation of the privilege as properly entitled them to the right,) at the same time provided that they be denied social equality, and reduced to a state of absolute slavery — they were made bond-slaves in perpetuity. Herein they were placed under the ban of social as well as political proscription — a position in which they could do the least possible mischief to the progress of civilization, but would contribute greatly to its advancement, and thereby promote their own improvement much beyond any thing they could have attained in their original heathen state. [207]

The Africans when first brought into this country were not a whit better in morals, and were greatly inferior in intellect to the ancient inhabitants of Canaan. And, although it be admitted that they have improved, the facts given clearly prove that they are still incompetent to self-government. They are, therefore, no more entitled to the right of political sovereignty than the Canaanites were. But more than this, the Canaanites did not materially differ from the Jews in their physical condition. There were no physical reasons against amalgamation. Intermarriage, it is true, was forbidden, but it was for reasons growing out of their heathen state alone. Whilst that state should last, the common interests of each in civilization forbade such social equality; but this cause out of the way, the Canaanites could be absorbed and lost in the stream of posterity. But not so with the African, as we have shown. He is destined to exist as a separate people. We do not say he shall not, but he cannot to any material extent amalgamate with the Caucasian race. If, therefore, it was proper for the Jews to make slaves of the Canaanites, for a much stronger reason it is now right for us to retain the African in a similar state, and until such time as Providence shall — if ever — open the door for his return to his fatherland. [208]

On the general question, Is the system of domestic government existing amongst us, and involving the abstract principle of slavery, justified by the circumstances of the case, and therefore right? we reach an affirmative conclusion, for the reasons:

I. That the Africans are a distinct race of people, who cannot amalgamate to any material extent with the whites, and who, therefore, must continue to exist as a separate class.

II. That they are, as a class, decidedly inferior to the whites in point of intellectual and moral development, so much so as to be incompetent to self-government. Although they have shared largely in the progress of civilization, they have not reached this point. The proof is:

1. Such is the almost universal opinion of the most intelligent and pious communities throughout the whole Southern country, who certainly are well acquainted with their character and capabilities, and therefore fully competent to judge in their case.

2. The experiments at domestic colonization which have been made in this country prove it.

3. The experiments in the case of the free colored population spread through the country are equally in proof.

4. The colonization experiment on the coast of Africa is still more conclusive. [209]

III. That domestic slavery is the appropriate form of government for a people in such circumstances, is fully exemplified by the Divine procedure in the case of the heathen subdued by the ancient Israelites.

We infer:

1. That they have no right to social equality or to political sovereignty — that to accord them either, in their present moral condition, would be a curse instead of a blessing. It would in all probability lead to the extermination of the race, and inflict a deep injury both upon the moral and physical condition of the whole country.

2. That every consideration of humanity and prudence requires that, until a better form of subordinate government shall be devised, they must be continued under the system of domestic slavery now in operation.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)
hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Cox (1)
Ashman (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: