Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. IV. - An Essay on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species
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CHAP. IV. - Thomas Clarkson, An Essay on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species 
An Essay on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species, particularly the African, translated from a Latin Dissertation, which was Honoured with the First Prize, in the University of Cambridge, for the Year 1785, with Additions (London: J. Phillips, 1786).
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It will be proper to say something here concerning the situation of the unfortunate men, who were thus doomed to a life of servitude. To enumerate their various employments, and to describe the miseries which they endured in consequence, either from the severity, or the long and constant application of their labour, would exceed the bounds we have proposed to the present work. We shall confine ourselves to their personal treatment, as depending on the power of their masters, and the protection of the law. Their treatment, if considered in this light, will equally excite our pity and abhorrence. They were beaten, starved, tortured, murdered at discretion: they were dead in a civil sense; they had neither name nor tribe; were incapable of a judicial process; were in short without appeal. Poor unfortunate men! to be deprived of all possible protection! to suffer the bitterest of injuries without the possibility of redress! to be condemned unheard! to be murdered with impunity! to be considered as dead in that state, the very members of which they were supporting by their labours!
Yet such was their general situation: there were two places however, where their condition, if considered in this point of view, was more tolerable. The Ægyptian slave, though perhaps of all others the greatest drudge, yet if he had time to reach the * temple of Hercules, found a certain retreat from the persecution of his master; and he received additional comfort from the reflection, that his life, whether he could reach it or not, could not be taken with impunity. Wise and salutary † law! how often must it have curbed the insolence of power, and stopped those passions in their progress, which had otherwise been destructive to the slave!
But though the persons of slaves were thus greatly secured in Ægypt, yet there was no place so favourable to them as Athens. They were allowed a greater liberty of speech;‡ they had their convivial meetings, their amours, their hours of relaxation, pleasantry, and mirth; they were treated, in short, with so much humanity in general, as to occasion that observation of Demosthenes, in his second Philippick, “that the condition of a slave, at Athens, was preferable to that of a free citizen, in many other countries.” But if any exception happened (which was sometimes the case) from the general treatment described; if persecution took the place of lenity, and made the fangs of servitude more pointed than before,* they had then their temple, like the Ægyptian, for refuge; where the legislature was so attentive, as to examine their complaints, and to order them, if they were founded in justice, to be sold to another master. Nor was this all: they had a privilege infinitely greater than the whole of these. They were allowed an opportunity of working for themselves, and if their diligence had procured them a sum equivalent with their ransom, they could immediately, on paying it down,‡ demand their freedom for ever. This law was, of all others, the most important; as the prospect of liberty, which it afforded, must have been a continual source of the most pleasing reflections, and have greatly sweetened the draught, even of the most bitter slavery.
Thus then, to the eternal honour of Ægypt and Athens, they were the only places that we can find, where slaves were considered with any humanity at all. The rest of the world seemed to vie with each other, in the debasement and oppression of these unfortunate people. They used them with as much severity as they chose; they measured their treatment only by their own passion and caprice; and, by leaving them on every occasion, without the possibility of an appeal, they rendered their situation the most melancholy and intolerable, that can possibly be conceived.
[* ]Herodotus. L. 2. 113.
[† ]“Apud Ægyptios, si quis servum sponte occiderat, eum morte damnari æque ac si liberum occidisset, jubebant leges &c.” Diodorus Sic. L. 1.
[‡ ]To this privilege Plautus alludes in his Casina, where he introduces a slave, speaking in the following manner.