Slavery in the Revolution.
the American Revolution
was no sudden outbreak.
It was preceded by eleven years of peaceful remonstrance and animated discussion.
The vital question concerned the right of the British Parliament to impose taxes, at its discretion, on British subjects in any and every part of the empire.
This question presented many phases, and prompted various acts and propositions.
But its essence was always the same; and it was impossible that such men as James Otis
, John Adams
, Thomas Jefferson
, and Patrick Henry
, should discuss it without laying broad foundations for their argument in premises affecting the natural and general Rights
of Man to self-government, with the control of his own products or earnings.
The enthusiast who imagines that our patriots were all
convinced of the danger and essential iniquity of Slavery, and the conservative who argues that few or none perceived and admitted the direct application of their logic to the case of men held in perpetual and limitless bondage, are alike mistaken.
There were doubtless some who did not perceive, or did not admit, the inseparable connection between the rights they claimed as British freemen and the rights of all men everywhere; but the more discerning and logical of the patriots comprehended and confessed that their assertion of the rightful inseparability of Representation from Taxation necessarily affirmed the grander and more essential right of each innocent, rational being to the control and use of his own capacities and faculties, and to the enjoyment of his own earnings.1
The principles of civil and political liberty, so patiently evolved and so thoroughly commended during the long controversy which preceded the appeal to arms, were reduced to axioms, and became portions of the popular faith.
, in drafting our immortal Declaration of Independence
, embodied in its preamble a formal and emphatic assertion of the inalienable Rights of Man, he set forth propositions novel and startling to European
ears, but which eloquence and patriotic fervor had already engraven deeply on the American
That Declaration was not merely, as Mr. Choate
has termed it, “the passionate manifesto of a revolutionary war;” it was the embodiment of our forefathers' deepest and most rooted convictions; and when, in penning that Declaration, he charged the British
government with upholding and promoting the African slavetrade against the protests of the colonists,2
and in violation of the dictates of humanity, he asserted truths which the jealous devotion of South Carolina
to slaveholding rendered it impolitic to send forth as an integral portion of our arraignment of British tyranny; but which were, nevertheless, widely and deeply felt to be an important and integral portion of our case.3
Even divested of this, the Declaration stands to-day an evidence that our fathers regarded the rule of Great Britain
as no more destructive to their own rights than to the rights of mankind.
No other document was ever issued which so completely reflected and developed the popular convictions which underlaid and impelled it as that Declaration of Independence
The cavil that its ideas were not original
is a striking testimonial to its worth.
Originality of conception was the very last merit to which he would have chosen to lay claim, his purpose being to embody the general convictions of his countrymen — their conceptions of human, as well as colonial, rights and British wrongs, in the fewest, strongest, and clearest words.
The fact that some of these words had already been employed — some of them a hundred times — to set forth the same general truths, in no manner unfitted them for his use.
The claim that his draft was a plagiarism
from the Mecklenburg (N. C.)
Declaration of April 20th, preceding, he indignantly repelled; but he always observed that he employed whatever terms best expressed his thought, and would not say how far he was indebted for them to his reading, how far to his original reflections.
Even the great fundamental assertion of Human Rights
, which he has so memorably set forth as follows: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights ; that among these, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundations on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness,” was no novelty to those who hailed and responded to it. Three weeks before, the Virginia Convention had unanimously adopted a Declaration of Rights, reported on the 27th of May by George Mason
which proclaims that “All men are by nature equally free, and have inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”
See also the Mecklenburg Declaration
The original draft of the Declaration of American Independence was first communicated by Mr. Jefferson
separately to two of his colleagues, John Adams
and Benjamin Franklin
, on the committee chosen by Congress to prepare it; then to the whole committee, consisting, in addition, of Roger Sherman
and Robert R. Livingston
; reported, after twenty days
gestation, on the 28th of June; read in Committee of the Whole on the 1st of July; earnestly debated and scanned throughout the three following days, until finally adopted on the evening of the 4th.
It may safely be said that not an affirmation, not a sentiment, was put forth therein to the world, which had not received the deliberate approbation of such cautious, conservative minds as those of Franklin
, John Adams
, and Roger Sherman
, and of the American People
, as well as their representatives in Congress, those of South Carolina
The progress of the Revolution justified and deepened these convictions.
Slavery was soon proved our chief source of weakness and of peril.
Of our three millions of people, half a million were the chattels of others; and though all the colonies tolerated, and most of them expressly legalized slaveholding, the slaves, nearly concentrated in the Southern States
, paralyzed the energies and enfeebled the efforts of their patriots.
Incited by proclamations of royal governors and military commanders, thousands of the negroes escaped to British camps and garrisons, and were there
manumitted and protected; while the master race, alarmed for the safety of their families, were un able or unwilling to enlist in the Continental
armies, or even to be called into service as militia.5
The number of slaves in the States respectively, at the time of the Revolution, is not known.
But it may be closely approximated by the aid of the census of 1790, wherein the slave population is returned as follows:
|North. ||South. |
|New Hampshire ||158 ||Delaware ||8,887 |
|Vermont ||17 ||Maryland ||103,036 |
|Rhode Island ||952 ||Virginia ||293,427 |
|Connecticut ||2,759 ||North Carolina ||100,572 |
|Massachusetts6 ||none ||South Carolina ||107,094 |
|New York ||21,324 ||Georgia ||29,264 |
|New Jersey ||11,423 ||Kentucky ||11,830 |
|Pennsylvania7 ||3,737 ||Tennessee ||3,417 |
| || || || |
|Total ||40,370 ||Total ||657,527 |
The documents and correspondence of the Revolution are full of complaints by Southern slaveholders of their helplessness and peril, because of Slavery, and of the necessity thereby created of their more efficient defense and protection.8
The New England
States, with a population less numerous than that of Virginia
, the Carolinas, and Georgia
, furnished more than double the number of soldiers to battle for the common cause.
The South was repeatedly overrun, and regarded as substantially subdued, by armies that would not have ventured to invade New England
, and could not have maintained themselves a month on her soil.
Indeed, after Gage
, and Burgoyne
's surrender at Saratoga
, New England, save the islands on her coast, was pretty carefully avoided by the Royalist generals, and only assailed by raids, which were finished almost as soon as begun.
These facts, vividly impressed on the general mind by the necessities and sacrifices of the times9
in connection with the discovery and elucidation, already noticed, of elemental principles, had pretty thoroughly cured the North
of all attachment to, or disposition to justify Slavery before the close of the Revolutionary war.