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III. 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 [34] 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. When Jefferson, 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 heart. 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 and Georgia 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 with Jefferson 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 [35] 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,4 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 and Georgia included.

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 [36] 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's expulsion [37] from Boston, 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.

1 Witness the Darien (Ga.) resolutions. In the Darien committee, Thursday, June 12, 1775:

When the most valuable privileges of a people are invaded, not only by open violence, but by every kind of fraud, sophistry, and cunning, it behooves every individual to be upon his guard, and every member of society, like beacons in a country surrounded by enemies, to give the alarm, not only when their liberties in general are invaded, but separately, lest the precedent in one may affect the whole; and to enable the collective wisdom of such a people to judge of its consequences, and how far their respective grievances concern all, or should be opposed to preserve their necessary union. Every laudable attempt of this kind by the good people of this Colony, in a constitutional manner, has been hitherto frustrated by the influence and authority of men in office and their numerous dependents, and in every other natural and just way by the various arts they have put in practice. We, therefore, the representatives of the extensive district of Darien, in the colony of Georgia, being now assembled in congress by the authority and free choice of the inhabitants of the said district, now free from their fetters, do Resolve--

There are six resolutions in all The first eulogizes “the firm and manly conduct of the people of Boston and Massachusetts,” acquiescing in all the resolutions of the “grand American Congress in Philadelphia last October.” The second resolution is denunciatory of England, in shutting up the land office, and in other oppressive acts. The third is opposed to ministerial mandates under the name of constitutions. The fourth is denunciatory of the number of officers appointed over the colonies by the British crown, and their exorbitant salaries. The fifth is as follows:

5th. To show the world that we are not influenced by any contracted or interested motive, but a general philanthropy for all mankind, of whatever climate, language, or complexion, we hereby declare our disapprobation and abhorrence of the unnatural practice of Slavery in America (however the uncultivated state of our country,and other specious arguments, may plead for it), a practice founded in injustice and cruelty, and highly dangerous to our liberties (as well as lives), debasing part of our fellow-creatures below men, and corrupting the virtue and morals of the rest, and as laying the basis of that liberty we contend for (and which we pray the Almighty to continue to the latest posterity) upon a very wrong foundation. We therefore resolve at all times to use our utmost efforts for the manumission of our slaves in this colony upon the most safe and equitable footing for the masters and themselves. “selves.” --American Archives, 4th Series, vol i., 1774 and 1775.

2 The following is the indictment of George III., as a patron and upholder of the African slavetrade, embodied by Mr. Jefferson in his original draft of the Declaration:

Determined to keep open a market where men should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce. And that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished dye, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people on whom he also obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.

3 Mr. Jefferson, in his Autobiography, gives the following reason for the omission of this remarkable passage from the Declaration as adopted, issued, and published:

The clause, too, reprobating the enslaving the inhabitants of Africa, was struck out in complaisance to South Carolina and Georgia, who had never attempted to restrain the importation of slaves, and who, on the contrary, still wished to continue it. Our Northern brethren also, I believe, felt a little tender under those censures; for, though their people had very few slaves themselves, yet they had been pretty considerable carriers of them to others. --Jefferson's Works, vol. i., p. 170.

4 The grandfather of James M. Mason, late U. S. Senator from Virginia, since Confederate Emissary to England. George Mason was one of Virginia's most illustrious sons.

5 The number of troops employed by the Colonies during the entire Revolutionary war, as well as the number furnished by each, is shown by the following, which is compiled from statistics contained in a work published by Jacob Moore, Concord, entitled, “Collections of the New Hampshire Historical Society for the year 1824,” vol. i., p. 236.

  Continental. Militia.
New Hampshire 12,496 2,093
Massachusetts 68,007 15,155
Rhode Island 5,878 4,284
Connecticut 32,039 7,792
New York 18,331 3,304
New Jersey 10,726 6,055
Pennsylvania 25,608 7,357
Delaware 2,317 376
Maryland 13,912 4,127
Virginia 26,668 5,620
North Carolina 7,263  
South Carolina 6,417  
Georgia 2,679  
Total 232,341 56,163

6 Massachusetts adopted a new State Constitution in 1780, to which a bill of rights was prefixed, which her Supreme Court soon after decided was inconsistent with the maintenance of Slavery, which had been thus abolished.

7 Pennsylvania had passed an act of Gradual Emancipation in 1780.

8 Henry Laurens of South Carolina, two years President of the Continental Congress, appointed Minister to Holland, and captured on his way thither by a British cruiser, finally Commissioner with Franklin and Jay for negotiating peace with Great Britain, on the 14th of August, 1776, wrote from Charleston, S. C., to his son, then in England, a letter explaining and justifying his resolution to stand or fall with the cause of American Independence, in which he said:

You know, my dear son, I abhor Slavery. I was born in a country where Slavery had been established by British kings and parliaments, as by the laws of that country, ages before my existence. I found the Christian religion and Slavery growing under the same authority and cultivation. I nevertheless disliked it. In former days, there was no combating tile prejudices of men supported by interest: the day, I hope, is approaching, when from principles of gratitude, as well as justice, every man shall strive to be foremost in showing his readiness to comply with the golden rule. Not less than twenty thousand pounds sterling would all my negroes produce, if sold at public auction tomorrow. I am not the man who enslaved them; they are indebted to Englishmen for that favor: nevertheless, I am devising means for manumitting many of them, and for cutting off tile entail of slavery. Great powers oppose me,--the laws and customs of my country, my own and the avarice of my countrymen. What will my children say if I deprive them of so much estate? These are difficulties, but not insuperable. I will do as much as I can in my time, and leave the rest to a better hand.

I am not one of those who arrogate the peculiar care of Providence in each fortunate event; nor one of those who dare trust in Providence for defense and security of their own liberty, while they enslave, and wish to continue in slavery, thousands who are as well entitled to freedom as themselves. I perceive the work before me is great. I shall appear to many as a promoter not only of strange, but of dangerous doctrines: it will therefore be necessary to proceed with caution. You are apparently deeply interested in this affair; but, as I have no doubts concerning your concurrence and approbation, I most sincerely wish for your advice and assistance, and hope to receive both in good time.

--Collection of the Zenger Club, pp. 20, 21.

9 The famous Rev. Samuel Hopkins, D. D., an eminent Calvinist divine, published, soon after the commencement of the war, a dialogue concerning the slavery of the Africans, which lie dedicated to “The honorable Continental Congress,” and of which the following passage exhibits the drift and purpose:

God is so ordering it in his providence, that it seems absolutely necessary something should be speedily done with respect to the slaves among us, in order to our safety, and to prevent their turning against us in our present struggle, in order to get their liberty. Our oppressors have planned to gain the blacks, and induce them to take up arms against us, by promising them liberty on this condition; and this plan they are prosecuting to the utmost of their power, by which means they have persuaded numbers to join them. And, should we attempt to restrain them by force and severity, keeping a strict guard over them, and punishing them severely who shall be detected in attempting to join our opposers, this will only be making bad worse, and serve to render our inconsistence, oppression, and cruelty more criminal, perspicuous, and shocking, and bring down the righteous vengeance of Heaven on our heads. The only way pointed out to prevent this threatening evil is to set the blacks at liberty ourselves, by some public acts and laws, and then give them proper encouragement to labor, or take arms in the defense of tie American cause, as they shall choose. This would at once be doing them some degree of justice, and defeating our enemies in the scheme that they are prosecuting. ---Hopkins's Works, vol. II., p. 584.

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