Front Page Titles (by Subject) PART THREE: Abolition Insolence - Democratick Editorials: Essays in Jacksonian Political Economy
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PART THREE: Abolition Insolence - William Leggett, Democratick Editorials: Essays in Jacksonian Political Economy 
Democratic Editorials: Essays in Jacksonian Political Economy, Foreword by Lawrence H. White (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1984).
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RIOT AT THE CHATHAM-STREET CHAPEL
July 8, 1834.
Title added by Sedgwick. Text abridged to omit a recounting of the events leading up to the riot.
The morning papers contain accounts of a riot at Chatham-street chapel last evening, between a party of whites and a party of blacks. The story is told in the morning journals in very inflammatory language, and the whole blame is cast upon the negroes; yet it seems to us, from those very statements themselves, that, as usual, there was fault on both sides, and more especially on that of the whites. It seems to us, also, that those who are opposed to the absurd and mad schemes of the immediate abolitionists, use means against that scheme which are neither just nor politic. We have noticed a great many tirades of late, in certain prints, the object of which appeared to be to excite the public mind to strong hostility to the negroes generally, and to the devisers of the immediate emancipation plan, and not merely to the particular measure reprehended. This community is too apt to run into excitements; and those who are now trying to get up an excitement against the negroes will have much to answer for, should their efforts be successful to the extent which some recent circumstances afford ground to apprehend. It is the duty of the press to discriminate; to oppose objectionable measures, but not to arouse popular fury against men; to repress, not to stimulate passion. Reason—calm, temperate reason—may do much to shorten the date of the new form in which fanaticism has recently sprung up among us; but persecution will inevitably have the effect of prolonging its existence and adding to its strength.
. . .
. . . That the whole scheme of immediate emancipation, and of promiscuous intermarriage of the two races, is preposterous, and revolting alike to common sense and common decency, we shall be ever ready, on all occasions, to maintain. Still, this furnishes no justification for invading the undoubted rights of the blacks, or violating the public peace; and we think, from the showing of those who mean to establish the direct contrary, that these were both done by the Sacred Music Society [the party of whites].
We are aware that we are taking the unpopular side of this question; but satisfied that it is the just one, we are not to be deterred by any such consideration. Certain prints have laboured very hard to get up an anti-negro excitement, and their efforts have in some degree been successful. It should be borne in mind, however, that fanaticism may be shown on both sides of the controversy; and they will do the most to promote the real interests of their country, and of the black people themselves, who will be guided in the matter by the dictates of reason and strict justice. The plans of the Colonization Society1 are rational and practicable; those of the enthusiasts who advocate immediate and unconditional emancipation wholly wild and visionary. To influence the minds of the blacks, then, in favour of the first, we must have recourse to temperate argument and authentic facts. Whatever is calculated to inflame their minds, prepares them to listen to the frantic ravings of those who preach the latter notions.
GOVERNOR McDUFFIE’S MESSAGE
February 10, 1835.
Title added by Sedgwick. Text abridged.
Governor McDuffie, in his late message to the Legislature of South Carolina, has promulgated various errors in relation to the views and principles of the democracy of the middle and northern states, which might excite astonishment at his ignorance, or regret at his insincerity, did we not know that they are founded on the misrepresentations of the Bank tory organs of this part of the world. Great pains have been taken by these to persuade the people of the south, that all the violent anathemas uttered against the system of slavery, by enthusiasts and fanatics in this quarter, and all their dangerous zeal for immediate emancipation, originate with the democracy. The charge of agrarianism, also, which has with such marvelous propriety been urged against this journal, because it supports the doctrine, not of an equalization of property, which is an impracticable absurdity, but because it maintains the principle of equal political rights, seems to have excited the sensitive apprehensions of the Governor of South Carolina, and prompted him to the utterance of sentiments which we are sorry to see avowed on such a public and grave occasion, as that of addressing the legislature in his official capacity.
We must beg leave to set Governor McDuffie right on these points. In the first place, what is called agrarianism by the Bank tory presses is nothing more than the great principle which has always been maintained with peculiar earnestness by the southern states, and most especially by Virginia and South Carolina. It is simply an opposition to all partial and exclusive legislation, which gives to one profession, one class of industry, one section of the Union, or one portion of the people, privileges and advantages denied to the others, or of which, from the nature of their situation and circumstances, they cannot partake. It is opposition to bounties, protections, incorporations, and perpetuities of all kinds, under whatever mask they may present themselves. It is neither more nor less in short, than a denial of the legislative authority to grant any partial or exclusive privileges under pretence of the “general welfare,” the “wants of the community,” “sound policy,” “sound action,” “developing the resources and stimulating the industry of the community,” or any other undefinable pretence, resorted to as a subterfuge by avarice and ambition. This is what the whig papers, as they style themselves, hold up to the South as a dangerous doctrine, calculated to unsettle the whole system of social organization, and subject the rights of property to the arbitrary violence of a hungry and rapacious populace!
. . .
Governor McDuffie is still more misled in his ideas of the part taken by the democracy of this and the eastern states in the mad and violent schemes of the immediate abolitionists, as they are called. He may be assured that the abettors and supporters of Garrison,1 and other itinerant orators who go about stigmatizing the people of the south as “men stealers,” are not the organs or instruments of the democracy of the north, but of the aristocracy—of that party which has always been in favour of encroaching on the rights of the white labourers of this quarter. It is so in Europe, and so is it here. There, the most violent opponents of the rights of the people of England, are the most loud in their exclamations against the wrongs of the people of Africa, as if they sought to quiet their consciences, for oppressing one colour, by becoming the advocates of the freedom of the other. Daniel O’Connell2 is one of the few exceptions, and even he, in one of his speeches, with the keenest and most bitter irony, taunted these one-sided philanthropists with perpetuating the long enduring system of oppression in Ireland, while they were affecting the tenderest sympathy for the blacks of the West Indies. Was Rufus King,3 the great leader on the Missouri question, a representative of the democracy of the north? and were not the interests of the planters of the south sustained by the democracy alone?
Governor McDuffie may make himself perfectly easy on the score of the democracy of the north. They are not agrarians, nor fanatics, nor hypocrites. They make a trade neither of politics, nor philanthropy. They know well that admitting the slaves of the south to an equality of civil and social rights, however deeply it might affect the dignity and interests of the rich planters of that quarter, would operate quite as injuriously, if not more so, on themselves. The civil equality might affect both equally, but the social equality would operate mainly to the prejudice of the labouring classes among the democracy of the north. It is here the emancipated slaves would seek a residence and employment, and aspire to the social equality they could never enjoy among their ancient masters. If they cannot bring themselves up to the standard of the free labouring white men, they might pull the latter down to their own level, and thus lower the condition of the white labourer by association, if not by amalgamation.
Not only this, but the labouring classes of the north, which constitute the great mass of the democracy, are not so short-sighted to consequences, that they cannot see, that the influx of such a vast number of emancipated slaves would go far to throw them out of employment, or at least depreciate the value of labour to an extent that would be fatal to their prosperity. This they know, and this will forever prevent the democracy of the north from advocating or encouraging any of those ill-judged, though possibly well-intended schemes for a general and immediate emancipation, or indeed for any emancipation, that shall not both receive the sanction and preserve the rights of the planters of the south, and, at the same time, secure the democracy of the north against the injurious, if not fatal consequences, of a competition with the labour of millions of manumitted slaves.
If any class of people in this quarter of the Union have an interest in this question, independent of the broad principle of humanity, it is the aristocracy. It is not those who labour and have an interest in keeping up its price, but those who employ labour and have an interest in depressing it. These last would receive all the benefits of a great influx of labourers, which would cause the supply to exceed the demand, and consequently depress the value of labour; while the former would not only experience the degradation of this competition, but become eventually its victims.
. . .
Again we assure Governor McDuffie, and all those who imagine they see in the democracy of the north, the enemies to their rights of property, and the advocates of principles dangerous to the safety and prosperity of the planters of the south, that they may make themselves perfectly easy on these heads. The danger is not in the democratic, but the aristocratic ascendancy. The whole is a scheme of a few ill-advised men, which certain whig politicians have used to set the republicans of the south against the democracy of the north, and thus, by dividing, conquer them both.
August 8, 1835.
Title added by Sedgwick. Text abridged.
We defy any man to point to a single instance in which fanaticism has been turned from its object by persecution, or in which its ardour has not been inflamed and its strength increased when opposed by arguments of brute force. On the contrary, history contains many striking cases of fanatical enterprises languishing and being abandoned, when those engaged in them were suffered to take their own course, without any other hinderance than such as was necessary to prevent their overleaping the safeguards of society.
Fanaticism is a species of insanity and requires analogous treatment. In regard to both, the soothing system is proved by its results to be the most effectual. The mind slightly touched with lunacy, may soon be exasperated into frenzy by opposition, or soon restored to perfect sanity by gentle and assuasive means. So, too, the mind, excited to fanaticism on any particular subject, religious, political, or philanthropic, is but heated to more dangerous fervour by violence, when it might easily be reduced to the temperature of health by the lenitives which reason and moderation should apply.
The first great impulse which the abolition cause received in this city was, we are persuaded, the attempt to suppress it by the means of mobs; . . . and we do hope that, in view of the pernicious consequences which have flowed from violent measures hitherto, a course more consistent with the meekness of Christianity, and with the sacred rights of free discussion, will be pursued henceforth.
While we believe most fully that the abolitionists are justly chargeable with fanaticism, we consider it worse than folly to misrepresent their character in other respects. They are not knaves nor fools, but men of wealth, education, respectability and intelligence, misguided on a single subject, but actuated by a sincere desire to promote the welfare of their kind. This, it will hardly be denied, is a true description, of at least a large proportion of those termed abolitionists. Is it not apparent on the face of the matter, that invective, denunciations, burnings in effigy, mob violence, and the like proceedings, do not constitute the proper mode of changing the opinions or conduct of such men? The true way is, either to point out their error by temperate arguments, or better still leave them to discover it themselves. The fire, unsupplied with fuel, soon flickers and goes out, which stirred and fed, will rise to a fearful conflagration, and destroy whatever falls within the reach of its fury.
With regard to the outrage lately committed in Charleston,1 we do not believe it constitutes any exception to our remarks. The effects of all such proceedings must be to increase the zeal of fanaticism, which always rises in proportion to the violence of the opposition it encounters. . . . Neither the General Post Office, nor the General Government itself, possesses any power to prohibit the transportation by mail of abolition tracts. On the contrary it is the bounden duty of the Government to protect the abolitionists in their constitutional right of free discussion; and opposed, sincerely and zealously as we are, to their doctrines and practise, we should be still more opposed to any infringement of their political or civil rights. If the Government once begins to discriminate as to what is orthodox and what heterodox in opinion, what is safe and what is unsafe in its tendency, farewell, a long farewell to our freedom.
The true course to be pursued, in order to protect the South as far as practicable, and yet not violate the great principle of equal freedom, is to revise the post-office laws, and establish the rates of postage on a more just gradation—on some system more equal in its operation and more consonant with the doctrines of economic science. The pretext under which a large part of the matters sent by mail are now sent free of postage—either positively or comparatively—is wholly unsound. “To encourage the diffusion of knowledge” is a very good object in itself; but Government has no right to extend this encouragement to one at the expense of another. Newspapers, pamphlets, commercial and religious tracts, and all sorts of printed documents, as well as letters, ought to pay postage, and all ought to pay it according to the graduation of some just and equal rule. If such a system were once established, making the postage in all cases payable in advance, with duplicate postage on those letters and papers which should be returned, not only the flood of abolition pamphlets would be stayed, but the circulation of a vast deal of harmful trash at the public expense would be prevented, creating a vacuum which would naturally be filled with matters of a better stamp.
REWARD FOR ARTHUR TAPPAN
August 26, 1835.
Title added by Sedgwick.
The southern presses teem with evidences that fanaticism of as wild a character as that which they deprecate exists among themselves. How else could such a paper as the Charleston Patriot advert with tacit approval to the statement, that a purse of twenty thousand dollars has been made up in New-Orleans as a reward for the audacious miscreant who should dare to kidnap Arthur Tappan,1 and deliver him on the Levee in that city. Revolting to right reason as such a proposition is, we find it repeated with obvious gust and approbation by prints conducted by enlightened and liberal minds—by minds that ordinarily take just views of subjects, achieve their ends by reasoning and persuasion, and exert all their influence to check the popular tendency to tumult. Is the Charleston Patriot so blinded by the peculiar circumstances in which the south is placed as not to perceive that the proposed abduction of Arthur Tappan, even if consummated by his murder, as doubtless is the object, would necessarily have a widely different effect from that of suppressing the Abolition Association, or in anywise diminishing its zeal and ardour? Does it not perceive, on the contrary, that such an outrage would but inflame the minds of that fraternity to more fanatical fervour, and stimulate them to more strenuous exertions, while it would add vast numbers to their ranks through the influence of those feelings which persecution never fails to arouse.
But independent of the effect of the proposed outrage on the abolitionists themselves, what, let us ask, would be the sentiments it would create in the entire community? Has the violence of the south, its arrogant pretensions and menacing tone so overcrowded our spirits, that we would tamely submit to see our citizens snatched from the sanctuary of their homes, and carried off by midnight ruffians, to be burned at a stake, gibbeted on a tree, or butchered in some public place, without the slightest form of trial, and without even the allegation of crime? Are our laws so inert, are our rights so ill-guarded, that we must bear such outrages without repining or complaint? Is our Governor a wooden image, that he would look on such unheard of audacity and make no effort to avenge the insult? These are questions which it will be well for the south to ponder seriously before it offers rewards to ruffians for kidnapping citizens of New-York. If the south wishes to retain its slaves in bondage, let it not insult the whole population of this great free state by threatening to tear any citizen from the protection of our laws and give him up to the tender mercies of a mob actuated by the most frantic fanaticism. Such a proceeding would make abolitionists of our whole two millions of inhabitants.
THE ANTI-SLAVERY SOCIETY
September 9, 1835.
Title added by Sedgwick.
The annexed address to the public has been sent to us inclosed in a note from an officer of the Anti-Slavery Society, requesting us, in “behalf of the society whose document it is, and in justice to the public who have a right to the information it contains,” to publish it in our columns this afternoon. We most cheerfully comply with this request; and furthermore invite the attention of our readers to this address, as not only one which it is incumbent on them in fairness to peruse, but as one, the sentiments of which, with a single exception, deserve, in our judgment, their approval.
It is quite time, since the South seems determined that we shall discuss the question of slavery, whether we will or no, that we remember the maxim which lies at the foundation of justice, Hear the other side. We have listened very credulously to the one side. We have with greedy ears devoured up all sorts of passionate invectives against the abolitionists, and received as gospel, without evidence, the most inflammatory and incendiary tirades against them. While appropriating to them exclusively the epithets of incendiaries and insurrectionists, we have ourselves been industriously kindling the flames of domestic discord, and stirring up the wild spirit of tumult. It is high time to pause, and ask ourselves what warrant we have for these proceedings? It is time to balance the account current of inflammatory charges, and see which side preponderates, whether that of the incendiaries of the north or of the south.
We have here, in the subjoined official address, signed with the names of men whom we believe too upright to lie, and who certainly have shown that they are not afraid to speak the truth, an exposition of the creed and practise of the Anti-Slavery Society. We have already said that, in our judgment, the matters contained in this document, with a single exception, deserve cordial approval. This expression we wish taken with a qualification. We do not approve of perseverance in sending pamphlets to the south on the subject of slavery in direct opposition to the unanimous sentiments of the slaveholders; but we do approve of the strenuous assertion of the right of free discussion, and moreover we admire the heroism which cannot be driven from its ground by the maniac and unsparing opposition which the abolitionists have encountered.
The particular portion of the subjoined document which we except from our approval is that wherein it is asserted as the duty of Congress to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia. That Congress has the constitutional power so to do, we have not the slightest doubt. But high considerations of expediency, in the largest sense of the word, should be well weighed before an exercise of that power is attempted. A spirit of conciliation and compromise should govern in the matter, as it did in the formation of our sacred Magna Charta. Every state in the confederacy should be considered as having an equal interest in the seat of the National Government, and the legislation for it should be of that neutral tint, which results from the mixture of contrary hues of opinion, and is in strong opposition to none. If the free states have a majority in Congress, yet paramount considerations of brotherhood and national amity should prevent them from stirring the question of slavery, by introducing it in any collateral or insidious form. Whenever that question once fully comes into general discussion it is destined to shake our empire to the centre. Let the commotion be then avoided in regard to a spot of ground which is not a pin’s point on the map, and in the government of which, more than in almost any other question, the sentiments of the minority ought to be respected.
We are not sure that the Harry Percys1 of the South, are not by their hot menaces and inconsiderate vaunts precipitating a discussion which must be entered into sooner or later, and may, perhaps, as well be undertaken at once. Be that as it may, their high and boastful language shall never deter this print from expressing its opinion that slavery is an opprobrium and a curse, a monstrous and crying evil, in whatever light it is viewed; and that we shall hail, as the second most auspicious day that ever smiled on our republic, that which shall break the fetters of the bondman, and give his enfranchised spirit leave to roam abroad on the illimitable plain of equal liberty.
We have no right to interfere legislatively with the subject of slavery in our sister states, and never have arrogated any. We have no moral right to stir the question in such a way as to endanger the lives of our fellow human beings, white or black, or expose the citizens of the north, attending to their occasions in the south, to the horrors of Lynch law. Nay, we repeat, what we have often asserted with as sincere earnestness as any loud-mouthed anti-abolitionist, that we deeply deplore all intemperate movements on this momentous subject, in view of the dreadful wrecks which the meeting tides of contrary fanaticism must spread around their borders. But while we truly entertain these sentiments, we know no reason that renders it incumbent on us to conceal how far our views are really opposed to slavery; and while we disclaim any constitutional right to legislate on the subject, we assert, without hesitation, that, if we possessed the right, we should not scruple to exercise it for the speedy and utter annihilation of servitude and chains. The impression made in boyhood by the glorious exclamation of Cato, that
has been worn deeper, not effaced, by time; and we eagerly and ardently trust that the day will yet arrive when the clank of the bondman’s fetters will form no part of the multitudinous sounds which our country continually sends up to heaven, mingling, as it were, into a song of praise for our national prosperity. We yearn with strong desire for the day when Freedom shall no longer wave
“Her fustian flag in mockery over slaves.”3
September 7, 1835.
Title added by Sedgwick. Text abridged.
There is a class of newspaper writers who seem to think that epithets are more powerful than arguments, and who therefore continually bestow on their opponents odious appellations, instead of counteracting the tendency of their views by temperate expositions of their fallacy. To call names certainly requires less effort of mind than to reason logically, and to persons of certain tastes and powers may therefore be the most congenial mode of disputation. But we are not aware that the highest degree of proficiency in this species of dialectics ever threw much light on the world, or sensibly advanced the cause of truth; and it may be doubted if even the fisherwomen of Billingsgate,1 who we believe stand unrivalled in vituperative eloquence, can be considered as ranking among the most edifying controversialists.
There are those, however, who widely differ from us in this opinion, if we may judge by their practise; who deem a harsh epithet more conclusive than a syllogism, and a personal allusion as comprising in itself subject, predicate, and copula. By this class of reasoners it has been our fortune to have many of our views opposed, and it is amusing to see the air of triumph with which they utter their opprobrious terms, as if each one levelled to the earth a whole file of arguments. Thus the fallacy of our views on banking was unanswerably demonstrated by calling us a lunatic; the folly of our opposition to monopolies was made manifest by likening us to Jack Cade;2 and all reasoning in support of the equal rights of man was summarily overthrown by the tremendous epithet of agrarian. The views which we have felt it our duty to urge on various other subjects were irrevocably scattered by a volley of small shot, among which the phrases “sailor actor editor,” and “chanting cherubs of the Post,” did the most fatal execution. And now, again, our exertions in support of the sacred right of free discussion, and in defence of the supremacy of the laws, are answered by a single word—by denouncing us as abolitionists.
There are persons who might be frightened into silence by the terrors of this formidable epithet; but we have something of the same spirit in us that animates those to whom it more truly applies, and do not choose to be driven back by the mere vulgar exclamations of men who wield no weapon but abuse, and who do not even know the meaning of the words they so liberally employ. The foundation of our political creed is unbounded confidence in the intelligence and integrity of the great mass of mankind; and this confidence sustains and emboldens us in our course on every public question which arises. We are led by it, not to inquire into individual prejudices or opinions; not to an anxious examination of the popular pulse on every particular subject; but to an inquiry, simply, into the abstract merits of the question, and an examination of it by the tests of truth and reason, relying on the popular wisdom and honesty to sustain the line of conduct which such scrutiny suggests. It is so in the present case. There is no terror in the term abolitionist for us; for we trust to our readers to discriminate between words and things, and to judge of us by our sentiments, not by the appellations which foul-mouthed opponents bestow. The course we are pursuing is one which we entered upon after mature deliberation, and we are not to be turned from it by a species of opposition, the inefficacy of which we have seen displayed in so many former instances. It is Philip Van Artavelde who says—
This is the sort of character we emulate.
If to believe slavery a deplorable evil and a curse, in whatever light it is viewed; if to yearn for the day which shall break the fetters of three millions of human beings, and restore to them their birth-right of equal freedom; if to be willing, in season and out of season, to do all in our power to promote so desirable a result, by all means not inconsistent with higher duty: if these sentiments constitute us abolitionists, then are we such, and glory in the name. But while we mourn over the servitude which fetters a large portion of the American people, and freely proclaim that, did the control of the subject belong to us, we would speedily enfranchise them all, yet we defy the most vigilant opponent of this journal to point his finger to a word or syllable that looks like hostility to the political rights of the south, or conceals any latent desire to violate the federal compact, in letter or spirit.
The obligations of the federal compact, however, are greatly misrepresented by those who contend that it places a ban on all discussion of the question of slavery. It places an interdiction on the discussion of no subject whatever; but on the contrary secures, by an especial guarantee, that no prohibition or limitation of freedom of opinion and speech, in its widest latitude, shall ever be instituted. The federal government cannot directly interfere with the question of slavery, simply because the power of such interference is not included among those conferred upon it; and “all powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” The truth is, the only restraint on the discussion of slavery is that which exists in the good sense and good feeling of the people, in their sentiments of brotherhood, and in the desire which all rational minds must entertain of accomplishing worthy ends by means every way proportioned to the object. Whoever supposes that the question is guarded by any more positive obligation than this, has very imperfectly studied both the Constitution itself, and those documents which illustrate its history, and the sentiments, motives and policy of its founders. The Journal of the Convention which framed the Constitution, and those of the several State Conventions are happily extant. If it is true that the people of the United States are forbidden to speak their sentiments on one of the most momentous subjects which ever engaged their thoughts; if they are so bound in fetters of the mind that they must not allude to the less galling fetters which bind the limbs of the southern slave; let the prohibitory passage, we pray, be quickly pointed out; let us be convinced at once that we are not freemen, as we have heretofore fondly believed; let us know the worst; that we may seek to accommodate our minds and break down our rebellious spirits to the restricted limits in which alone they are permitted to expatiate.
SLAVERY NO EVIL
September 9, 1835.
Title added by Sedgwick.
Nothing, in these days of startling doctrines and outrageous conduct, has occurred to occasion us more surprise than the sentiments openly expressed by the southern newspapers, that slavery is not an evil, and that to indulge a hope that the poor bondman may be eventually enfranchised is not less heinous than to desire his immediate emancipation. We could hardly have believed, if we had not seen these sentiments expressed in the southern newspapers, that such opinions are entertained by any class of people in this country. But that they are both entertained and loudly promulgated, the extracts from Charleston papers which our columns contain this afternoon afford abundant and sorrowful proof. These extracts are from journals which speak the feelings and opinions of a whole community; journals conducted with ability, by men who weigh their words before they give them breath, and seldom utter sentiments, particularly on momentous questions, which are not fully responded to by a wide circle of readers. We have made our quotations from the Charleston Courier and Charleston Patriot; but we might greatly extend them, did not our sickened feelings forbid, by similar passages from various other newspapers, published in various parts of the south.
Slavery no evil! Has it come to this, that the foulest stigma on our national escutcheon, which no true-hearted freeman could ever contemplate without sorrow in his heart and a blush upon his cheek, has got to be viewed by the people of the south as no stain on the American character? Have their ears become so accustomed to the clank of the poor bondman’s fetters that it no longer grates upon them as a discordant sound? Have his groans ceased to speak the language of misery? Has his servile condition lost any of its degradation? Can the husband be torn from his wife, and the child from its parent, and sold like cattle at the shambles, and yet free, intelligent men, whose own rights are founded on the declaration of the unalienable freedom and equality of all mankind, stand up in the face of heaven and their fellow men, and assert without a blush that there is no evil in servitude? We could not have believed that the madness of the south had reached so dreadful a climax.
Not only are we told that slavery is no evil, but that it is criminal towards the south, and a violation of the spirit of the federal compact, to indulge even a hope that the chains of the captive may some day or other, no matter how remote the time, be broken. Ultimate abolitionists are not less enemies of the south, we are told, than those who seek to accomplish immediate enfranchisement. Nay, the threat is held up to us, that unless we speedily pass laws to prohibit all expression of opinion on the dreadful topic of slavery, the southern states will meet in Convention, separate themselves from the north, and establish a separate empire for themselves. The next claim we shall hear from the arrogant south will be a call upon us to pass edicts forbidding men to think on the subject of slavery, on the ground that even meditation on that topic is interdicted by the spirit of the federal compact.
What a mysterious thing this federal compact must be, which enjoins so much by its spirit that is wholly omitted in its language—nay not only omitted, but which is directly contrary to some of its express provisions! And they who framed that compact, how sadly ignorant they must have been of the import of the instrument they were giving to the world! They did not hesitate to speak of slavery, not only as an evil, but as the direst curse inflicted upon our country. They did not refrain from indulging a hope that the stain might one day or other be wiped out, and the poor bondman restored to the condition of equal freedom for which God and nature designed him. But the sentiments which Jefferson, and Madison, and Patrick Henry freely expressed are treasonable now, according to the new reading of the federal compact. To deplore the doom which binds three millions of human beings in chains, and to hope that by some just and gradual measures of philanthropy, their fetters, one by one, may be unlocked from their galled limbs, till at last, through all our borders, no bondman’s groan shall mix with the voices of the free, and form a horrid discord in their rejoicings for national freedom—to entertain such sentiments is treated as opprobrious wrong done to the south, and we are called upon to lock each other’s mouths with penal statutes, under the threat that the south will else separate from the confederacy, and resolve itself into a separate empire.
This threat, from iteration, has lost much of its terror. We have not a doubt, that to produce a disrupture of the Union, and join the slave states together in a southern league, has been the darling object, constantly and assiduously pursued for a long time past, of certain bad revolting spirits, who, like the arch-angel ruined, think that “to reign is worth ambition, though in hell.” For this purpose all the arts and intrigues of Calhoun and his followers and myrmidons have been zealously and indefatigably exerted. For the achievement of this object various leading prints have long toiled without intermission, seeking to exasperate the southern people by daily efforts of inflammatory eloquence. For the accomplishment of this object they have traduced the north, misrepresented its sentiments, falsified its language, and given a sinister interpretation to every act. For the accomplishment of this object they have stirred up the present excitement on the slave question, and constantly do all in their power to aggravate the feeling of hostility to the north which their hellish arts have engendered. We see the means with which they work, and know the end at which they aim. But we trust their fell designs are not destined to be accomplished.
If, however, the political union of these states is only to be preserved by yielding to the claims set up by the south; if the tie of confederation is of such a kind that the breath of free discussion will inevitably dissolve it; if we can hope to maintain our fraternal connexion with our brothers of the south only by dismissing all hope of ultimate freedom to the slave; let the compact be dissolved, rather than submit to such dishonourable, such inhuman terms for its preservation. Dear as the Union is to us, and fervently as we desire that time, while it crumbles the false foundations of other governments, may add stability to that of our happy confederation, yet rather, far rather would we see it resolve into its original elements tomorrow, than that its duration should be effected by any measures so fatal to the principles of freedom as those insisted upon by the south.
These are the sentiments of at least one northern journal; and these sentiments we shall intermit no occasion of urging with all the earnestness of our nature and all the ability we possess. It is due to ourselves, and it is no less due to the south, that the north should speak out plainly on the questions which the demands of the former present for our decision. On this subject boldness and truth are required. Temporizing, like oil upon the waters, may smooth the billows for a moment, but cannot disperse the storm. Reasonable men and lovers of truth will not be offended with those who speak with boldness what reason and truth conspire to dictate. “As for the drummers and trumpeters of faction,” to use the language of Lord Bolingbroke, “who are hired to drown the voice of truth in one perpetual din of clamour, and would endeavour to drown, in the same manner, even the dying groans of their country, they deserve no answer but the most contemptuous silence.”
PROGRESS OF FANATICISM
January 14, 1837.
There are probably a good many readers of this paper who would be startled if we should say to them, in the briefest form of expression, We are an Abolitionist. They no doubt agree with us in the sentiment that slavery is a prodigious and alarming evil; that it continually and rapidly grows more and more portentous; and that it exercises a pernicious influence on the dearest interests of the country: on its internal political relations; its commercial and agricultural prosperity; and on the moral character, and social condition of the people. They would agree with us most heartily in wishing that this terrible evil could be remedied, and every vestige of it effaced from the land. They might perhaps go one step further, and acknowledge that the highest obligations of patriotism and philanthropy require the subject to be discussed, temperately, but thoroughly; and that appeals, strengthened by all the cogency of argument, and animated with all the fervour of eloquence, should be sounded in the ears of the slaveholders, to arouse their humanity, convince their reason, and awaken their fears, and to bring all the agents of their hearts and understandings to cooperate in the great work of human emancipation.
Many persons would perhaps go to this extent with us, when the propositions are thus broadly and diffusely stated, who would yet shrink back dismayed from a concise and simple declaration of abolitionism. But, reader, if you acknowledge the manifold evils of slavery, in all the aspects in which the subject can be considered; if you desire to see them terminated; and if you are willing, as one of the plainest and most innocent, as well as one of the most effectual modes of accomplishing that object, to discuss the question, You are an Abolitionist. That name, at all events, we freely admit belongs to ourselves; nor is there anything in its sound which grates upon our ear, nor in the duties it implies which our mind does not willingly embrace.
There is a class of persons connected with the newspaper press who seem to think that epithets are weapons of more cogency than arguments, and who therefore seek to dispose of every subject, not by an exposition of the correctness of their own opinions, or a refutation of the arguments of their opponents, but by bestowing upon them a shower of odious appellations. To call names certainly requires less exertion of intellect, than to reason soundly; and hence, to persons of certain tastes and capacities, this may be the most natural and congenial method of disputation. But we are not aware that the highest degree of proficiency in this species of dialecticks ever shed much light upon the world. The logick of sweeps and coal heavers, however highly embellished with their peculiar modes of rhetorical illustration, has never afforded any important assistance to the cause of truth; and it may be doubted if even the fishwomen of Billingsgate, who, we believe, stand unrivalled in vituperative and objurgatory eloquence, can be considered as among the most dignified and instructive of controversialists.
But there are those, if we may judge by their practice, who entertain a different opinion; who consider a harsh epithet as more conclusive than a syllogism, and a fierce denunciation as comprehending in itself subject, predicate, and copula. If you meet them with an array of incontrovertible arguments, they answer you with a discharge of opprobrious terms; and a cry of exultation usually succeeds the volley, as if it must necessarily have levelled all your logick to the earth. If you tell them that slavery is an evil, they deride you as a fanatick. If you claim the right to discuss the subject, they denounce you as an incendiary. If you call the poor degraded negro a fellow being, they shout amalgamationist at the top of their lungs, and invoke the mob to pelt you with stones, or to seize you and pour seething tar over your limbs. It is this class of logicians who have given to the term abolitionist its odious import. We are not of those, however, who can be deterred from the assertion of a right, or the performance of a duty, by opprobrium or threats; and we therefore not merely admit that we are an abolitionist, but earnestly lay claim to that appellation, considering it, not an epithet of disgrace, but a title of honour.
There probably is not, in the whole extent of this wide Confederacy, a single man, entitled, on any ground, to the slightest consideration, who would dare to lift up his head, and say, that the abolition of the African slave trade was not a noble and praiseworthy work. Yet reader, if you have ever perused the memoir of that illustrious and indefatigable philanthropist, Clarkson, or if his coadjutors, Roscoe, Wilberforce, and Fox, or even Boswell’s biography of Johnson, you must be aware that the same sort of vituperative clamour was exerted to defeat that glorious project, which is now so freely used against the kindred objects of the abolitionists in this country. It is curious, indeed, to notice the positive identity of the phrases of reproach and denunciation made use of in the two cases. Then, as now, fanatick, incendiary, robber, and murderer, were among the terms most frequently employed. But those engaged in the good work persevered to the end, notwithstanding the obstacles they encountered, and by so doing have secured a place in the grateful recollection of all posterity, as among the noblest benefactors of mankind. There is little reason to fear that the glorious example will not be successfully emulated here. The progress of enlightened opinion on the subject of slavery has been wonderfully great in the last two years. The flame is spreading far and wide, and throwing its radiance over the whole land. The very measures taken to extinguish it have caused it to blaze up with greater brilliancy, and extend with a more rapid progress. The people of Charleston, when they broke riotously into the Post Office, and sought to silence discussion by violence, gave a fresh impulse to the spirit which they could not intimidate. The detestable doctrines of Amos Kendall’s letter on that occasion,1 brought myriads of new auxiliaries to the great cause of human freedom; and every succeeding effort of intolerance, every outbreak of violence, every tumultuous attempt to invade the sacred right of speech and of the press, has swelled the number of those who, in the true spirit of the Constitution, assert the equal claim of all mankind to the blessings of liberty.
How poor, how pitiful, to the mind of an enlightened philanthropist, must seem the brief and quibbling paragraph in the recent message of Governour Marcy, which contains all that functionary has thought proper to say on the subject of abolition. To that world-wide theme, which engages the attention of the loftiest minds, and enlists the sympathies of the best hearts in our Confederacy, the governour of this great state, in which the question is most vigorously discussed, can afford to give, in his official communication to the legislature, only the following imperfect notice:
. . .
Who can read this evasive paragraph without blushing for the cringing spirit it betrays? Who can mark its tenour, without perceiving that it is throughout essentially false? Who can reflect upon its obvious motive and object, without a sentiment of contempt for the gubernatorial truckler that penned it? Since politicians first learned the art of misrepresenting truth, there never was a tissue of more disingenuous statements. “Some embarked in the scheme of abolition with good intentions?” Precious admission! Ay, some indeed! Take the abolitionists as a body, and there never was a band of men, engaged in any struggle for freedom, whose whole course and conduct evinced more unmixed purity of motive, and truer or loftier devotion to the great cause of human emancipation. Whatever difference of opinion there may be as to the propriety or practicability of their object, or the character of their means, there can be none as to the singleness and holiness of their motive. It is free from all taint of selfishness, from all alloy of personal ambition, and all sordid projects of ultimate gain. They battle for freedom, not for themselves, but for the wretched and degraded negro. To emancipate him, they incur odium, sustain losses, and make vast and continual sacrifices of money and health. They give their days to toil, and their nights to watching. They encounter the derision of the rabble, endure without retaliation the vilest outrages of their persons, see their houses broken into by mobs, their families insulted, their property scattered to the winds, and themselves hunted like beasts of the forest. Nothing but the highest and purest motives could sustain men through such rancour and frenzy of persecution as the abolitionists have endured. Call them fanaticks, if you will; denounce their object as visionary and ruinous, and themselves as actuated by an insane spirit of liberty; but do not—in the face of such proofs of singleness and sincerity as no set of men ever yet transcended—do not impeach the goodness of their intentions. They who sought to turn the question of slavery to party purposes were not abolitionists; they were “scurvy politicians,” who denounced the abolitionists, and were anxious to throw the odium of that enterprise on the opposite party, for the base purpose of thereby effecting political results in the slave states. They were men influenced by the same paltry spirit which dictated the paragraph in Governour Marcy’s message; a spirit which would conciliate the slaveholders at the expense of freedom and of truth; a spirit as different from that which animates the abolitionists, as the darkest hour of night from the meridian brightness of day. Dr. Channing,2 in his recent eloquent letter to Mr. Birney, has paid a just tribute to the spirit which guides and sustains those engaged in the great and good cause of the abolition of slavery; and we cannot make a better appropriation of our space, than by here inserting a copious extract from it. We hope Governour Marcy will peruse the passage, and blush at the wretched figure which his own pusillanimous paragraph presents in the contrast.
. . .
We thank Dr. Channing, from the bottom of our heart do we thank him, for lending the influence of his great name—clarum et venerabile nomen—to one of the highest and holiest causes that ever engaged the devoted energies of men. We welcome him to the brotherhood of “abolitionists, fanaticks and incendiaries.” We rejoice that he has entered into the companionship of those “despicable and besotted wretches,” who place so little value on the blessings of freedom as to desire to emancipate three millions of fellow creatures from galling and abject bondage. It gives us the highest gratification that he has joined himself to a fraternity which Governour Marcy assures us has dwindled into insignificance, and the proof of which is, that where, two years ago, there was one abolitionist, there are a thousand now, and where one press then feebly and timidly espoused the cause of emancipation, a hundred now boldly and energetically discuss the subject, in all its bearings and relations. This assurance of Governour Marcy, coupled with the other, that all cause of disquietude to the south has passed away, comes well upon the heel of those proceedings which it has recently been our duty to state, and some of which are recorded in this very number of our paper. While abolitionists are mobbed in the north, and the chief executive officers of Virginia and South Carolina are calling on the legislatures in this portion of the Confederacy to silence free discussion by penal statutes, under a threat of a dissolution of the Union if they refuse to do so, Governour Marcy gravely announces to the people that all excitement has ceased, and that no cause for disquietude any longer exists. Out upon such official insincerity!
In the closing paragraph of the extract we have given from Dr. Channing’s Letter, that great writer has exposed, with peculiar eloquence and force, the emptiness and shadowy nature of the chimera which the political braggarts of the south continually hold up as a bugbear to intimidate the people of the north from the exercise of one of their most sacred rights. If this vain threat were earnest, instead of mere bravado; if the phantasm were corporeal substance, instead of shadow, we would rather, far rather, encounter it, in its most horrid form, than pay the price which we are told will alone purchase security. We cannot give up Freedom for the sake of Union. We cannot give up the principle of vitality, the very soul of political existence, to secure the perishing body from dismemberment. No! rather let it be hewed to pieces, limb by limb, than, by dishonourable compromise, obtain a short renewal of the lease of life, to be dragged out in servitude and chains. Rather let the silken tie, which has so long united this sisterhood of states in a league that has made our country the pride and wonder of the world, be sundered at once, by one fell blow, than exchanged for the iron cord of despotism, and strengthened into a bond fatal to freedom. Dear as the federal compact is, and earnestly as we wish that time, while it is continually crumbling the false foundations of other governments, may add firmness to the cement which holds together that arch of union on which our own is reared, yet rather would we see it broken to-morrow into its original fragments, than that its durability should be accomplished by a measure fatal to the principles of liberty.
AN ARGUMENT AGAINST ABOLITION REFUTED
March 4, 1837.
Text abridged and extract deleted.
A calm and temperate writer appeared sometime since in the American, under the signature of a Virginian, who founded an argument against the abolition of slavery on certain facts derived from a comparison of the tables of mortality of the blacks in a state of servitude and in a state of freedom. The result of his statisticks was to show that the mortality of free blacks is greater than that of slaves, and greater than that of whites also; while the longevity of slaves exceeds even that of their masters. The inference of the writer was that humanity required the slaves to be left in that condition which facts showed to be most favourable to long life. . . .
. . .
. . . Their superiour longevity may be doubly accounted for; for, on the one hand, while labour and simple diet are favourable to life, on the other, the habits of luxurious indolence which slaveholders fall into have the opposite effect. Such a comparison as the writer to whom the foregoing extract is in answer seeks to institute can be fair only when drawn between blacks in a state of servitude and blacks really free. What would be the effect of absolute and equal freedom on the black race in this country, is an experiment which has not yet been tried, and which, in the nature of things, cannot be tried very soon; for we have not only to do away the legal disabilities now imposed on those negroes whom we term free, but who are free only in a qualified sense, but we have also to do away the disabilities which exist in general and deep rooted prejudices. Opinion is tending in that direction; but its progress is slow, and a long period must elapse before the reformation will be complete. The day will come when the claims of the American black race to all the privileges and immunities of equal political freedom will be fully acknowledged, and when the prejudices of society will give way before the steady influence of truth, enlightened reason, and comprehensive philanthropy. But before that time, any argument, founded on a comparison of the different rates of mortality between negroes in a state of slavery and those in a state of bastard freedom, must be wholly defective, even to the extent of proving the opposite influences on life of the two conditions of liberty and bondage. But even after that time, the argument, whatever might be the facts, would not answer the purpose for which it is produced; since longevity is but one of many circumstances which constitute the happiest condition of man. The writer from whom we have borrowed the extract to which we are appending these remarks, has shown that if it were the sole fact to be regarded, the condition of the convicts in our prisons is better than that of the most virtuous portion of society. The savages of our wilderness, before the poison of the distillery was introduced among them, enjoyed longer life, and were more exempt from disease, than the most educated and refined classes of our cities—
COMMENCEMENT OF THE ADMINISTRATION OF MARTIN VAN BUREN
March 11, 1837.
The inauguration of Martin Van Buren, as President of the United States took place at the Capitol, in Washington, on Saturday last, at noon. The day was serene and temperate, and the simple and august ceremonial was performed in the presence of assembled thousands. Mr. Van Buren delivered an Inaugural Address on the occasion, which, probably, most of our readers have already perused, but which, as a portion of the history of the times we insert in our paper. It is longer than the Inaugural Address of his immediate predecessor, but does not contain a tithe part of its pith. It professes to be an avowal of the principles by which the new President intends to be guided in his administration of the government; but with the single exception of the principle of opposition to the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, which it expresses with most uncalled for and unbecoming haste and positiveness, he might, with as much propriety, have sung Yankee Doodle or Hail Columbia, and called it “an avowal of his principles.” With the exception of that indecorous announcement of a predetermination to exercise his veto against any measure of abolition which Congress may possibly think proper to adopt during the next four years, the address contains no expression of political principles whatever. . . .
. . .
But it is not so much for what it has omitted to say, as for what it says, that we feel dissatisfaction with this inaugural address. We dislike exceedingly both the tone and spirit of its remarks on the subject of slavery. On that one topic, there is, indeed, no want but a superabundance of “particularity and distinctness.” Mr. Van Buren is the first President of the United States who, in assuming that office, has held up his veto power, in terrorem, to the world, and announced a fixed predetermination to exercise it on a particular subject, no matter what changes might take place in public opinion, or what events may occur to modify the question on which his imperial will is thus dictatorially announced.
. . .
. . . Does Mr. Van Buren venture to affirm that such a law as he declares his intention of vetoing would be a violation of any article or clause in the federal compact? No! he believes that such a course will be “in accordance with the spirit which actuated the venerated fathers of the republic,” but does not pretend that such a spirit has made itself palpable and unequivocal in any of the written provisions of the instrument which he has sworn to maintain. . . .
When a President announces that the letter of the Constitution shall be his guide of public conduct; when he takes as his rule of action a strict construction of the express provisions of that instrument, we may form some tolerable notion of what will be his course. But when he undertakes to steer by the uncertain light of the spirit, we are tossed about on a sea of vague conjecture, and left to the mercy of winds and waves. Hamilton was guided by the spirit in proposing the first federal bank; but Jefferson adhered to the letter in his argument against that evil scheme. The high tariff system claims for its paternity the spirit of the Constitution; but the advocates of a plan of equal taxation, adjusted to the actual wants of the government, find their warrant in the letter. The internal improvement system, the compromise system, the distribution system, and every other unequal and aristocratic system which has been adopted in our country, all claim to spring from the spirit of the Constitution; but Andrew Jackson found in the letter of that instrument his rule of conduct, and it was fondly hoped that his successor meant to emulate his example. Appearances now authorize a fear of the contrary. The first step is certainly a deviation from the path.
Mr. Van Buren’s indecent haste to avow his predeterminations on the subject of slavery has not even the merit of boldness. It is made in a cringing spirit of propitiation to the south, and in the certainty that a majority at the north accord with his views. . . .
There is a single phrase in the anti-abolition portion of Mr. Van Buren’s address upon which we shall make one additional comment, and then dismiss the subject. Alluding to the proslavery mobs and riots which have taken place in various parts of the country, he says, “a reckless disregard of the consequences of their conduct has exposed individuals to popular indignation.” This is an admirable version of the matter. The issuing of a temperate and decorous newspaper, in which a question of great public moment was gravely discussed, showed, beyond all question, a most “reckless disregard of consequences,” deserving the harshest rebuke; and the conduct of the mob that broke up the press, demolished the house which contained it, and shockingly maltreated the person of the editor, was merely a natural and justifiable expression of “popular indignation.” They who thought the Constitution vouchsafed to them the freedom of speech and of the press, were criminal to act under that singular delusion; while they who dragged these atrocious men from the sanctuaries of God, from their firesides and from the pulpit, pelted them with stones, tore their garments from their limbs, steeped them in seething tar, and heaped all manner of injuries on their defenceless heads—these men were “true friends of the Constitution,” and animated by “the spirit which actuated the venerated fathers of the republic.” Mr. Van Buren does not say so in express terms; but he alludes to their atrocities in language so soft and sugary, as to sound almost like positive approval.
On the whole, we consider this Inaugural Address as constituting a page of Mr. Van Buren’s history which will reflect no credit upon him in after times.
THE QUESTION OF SLAVERY NARROWED TO A POINT
April 15, 1837.
The temperate and well-considered sentiments of Mr. Rives1 on the subject of slavery, as expressed in the Senate last winter, when certain petitions against slavery in the District of Columbia were under consideration, do not meet with much approval in the southern states. But the violent language of Mr. Calhoun2 is applauded to the echo. Mr. Rives, it will be remembered, admitted, in the most explicit manner, that “slavery is an evil, moral, social, and political;” while Mr. Calhoun, on the other hand, maintained that “it is a good—a great good.”
We have a paragraph lying before us, from the New-Orleans True American, in which the sentiments of Mr. Calhoun are responded to with great ardour, and the admission that slavery is an evil is resisted as giving up the whole question in dispute. The writer says:
“If the principle be once acknowledged, that slavery is an evil, the success of the fanatics is certain. We are with Mr. Calhoun on this point. He insists that slavery is a positive good in our present social relations—that no power in the Union can touch the construction of southern society, without actual violation of all guaranteed and unalienated rights. This is the threshold of our liberties. If once passed, the tower must fall.”
Reader, contemplate the picture presented to you in this figurative language: the tower of liberty erected on the prostrate bodies of three millions of slaves. Worthy foundation of such an edifice! And appropriately is the journal which displays such anxiety for its stability termed the True American.
“Evil, be thou my good,” is the exclamation of Mr. Calhoun, and myriads of true Americans join in worship of the divinity thus set up. But truth has always been a great iconoclast, and we think this idol of the slaveholders would fare little better in her hands than the images of pagan idolatry.
If the question of the abolition of slavery is to be narrowed down to the single point whether slavery is an evil or not, it will not take long to dispose of it. Yet it would perhaps not be an easy thing to prove that slavery is an evil, for the same reason that it would not be easy to prove that one and one are two; because the proposition is so elementary and self-evident, that it would itself be taken for a logical axiom as readily as any position by which we might seek to establish it. The great fundamental maxim of democratic faith is the natural equality of rights of all mankind. This is one of those truths which, in our Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights of this Confederacy, we claim to be self-evident. Those who maintain that slavery is not an evil must repudiate this maxim. They must be content to denounce the attempts to abolish slavery on the same ground that Gibbon* denounced the petitions to the British Parliament against the slave trade, because there was “a leaven of democratical principles in them, wild ideas of the rights and natural equality of man,” and they must join that full-faced aristocrat in execrating “the fatal consequences of democratical principles, which lead by a path of flowers to the abyss of hell.” If they admit man’s natural equality, they at once admit slavery to be an evil. “In a future day,” says Dymond, in his admirable work on morals,3 “it will probably become a subject of wonder how it could have happened that, on such a subject as slavery, men could have inquired and examined and debated, year after year; and that many years could have passed before the minds of a nation were so fully convinced of its enormity, and of their consequent duty to abolish it, as to suppress it to the utmost of their power. This will probably be a subject of wonder, because the question is so simple, that he who simply applies the requisitions of the moral law finds no time for reasoning or for doubt. The question as soon as it is proposed is decided.”
But if we shut our eyes upon the moral law, and decide whether slavery is a good or an evil with sole reference to the test of utility; if we consider it merely a question of political economy, and one in which the interests of humanity and the rights of nature, as they affect the slave, are not to be taken into account, but the mere advantage of the masters alone regarded, we shall still come to the same conclusion. The relative condition of any two states of this Confederacy, taking one where slavery exists, and one where it does not, illustrates the truth of this remark. But it would not be difficult to prove, by a process of statistical arguments, that slave labour is far more costly than free, wretchedly as the wants and comforts of the slaves are provided for in most of the southern states. So that, limiting the inquiry to the mere question of pecuniary profit, it could be demonstrated that slavery is an evil. But this is a view of the subject infinitely less important than its malign influence in social and political respects, still regarding the prosperity of the whites as alone deserving consideration. When the social and political effects on three millions of black men are superadded as proper subjects of inquiry, the evil becomes greatly increased.
But to enter seriously into an argument to prove that slavery is an evil would be a great waste of time. They who assert the contrary do so under the influence of such feelings as are evinced by the ruined archangel, in the words from Milton which we have quoted at the head of these remarks. They do so in a tone of malignant defiance, and their own hearts, as they make the declaration, throb with a degrading consciousness of its falsehood.
The position that no power in the Union can touch the construction of southern society without violating guaranteed rights, will no more bear the test of examination, than the assertion that slavery is not an evil. There is no power, we concede, in the federal government to abolish slavery in any state, and none in any state to abolish it except within its own limits. But in as far as a free and full discussion of slavery, in all its characteristics and tendencies, may be considered as touching the construction of southern society, the right belongs to every citizen; and it is by this mode of touching it that it is hoped eventually to do away entirely with the deplorable evil. It cannot always exist against the constant attrition of public opinion.
The right to discuss slavery exists in various forms. It is claimed, in the first place, that Congress has absolute authority over that subject, so far as it relates to the District of Columbia. Every state, also, has authority over it within its own limits. And the people of the United States have absolute authority over it, so far as it presents a question to be considered in reference to any proposed amendment of the federal constitution. Suppose, for example, it should be desired by any portion of the people, to change the basis of southern representation in Congress, on the ground that slaves, being allowed to have no political rights, but being considered mere property, ought not to be enumerated in the political census, any more than the cattle and sheep of northern graziers and woolgrowers. The Constitution is amenable in this, as in every other respect, with the single exception of the equal representation of every state in the federal Senate; and it is consequently a legitimate subject of discussion. Yet the discussion of this subject involves, naturally and necessarily, a consideration of slavery in all its relations and influences. Suppose, again, any portion of the citizens of a state where negroes are not held to bondage, but are not admitted to equal suffrage, as in this state, should desire those distinctive limitations to be removed. This is a legitimate question to be discussed, and the discussion of this brings up the whole subject of slavery. Or suppose, thirdly, that any persons in a free state should desire to re-instate negro slavery. The south would scarcely quarrel with them for seeking to carry their wishes into effect; yet they could only hope to do so through the means of a discussion which would legitimately embrace every topic connected with slavery, nearly or remotely.
It is by discussion alone that those who are opposed to slavery seek to effect a reconstruction of southern society; and the means, we think, if there is any virtue in truth, will yet be found adequate to the end. If slavery is really no evil, the more it is discussed, the greater will be the number of its advocates; but if it is “an evil, moral, social and political,” as Mr. Rives has had the manliness to admit, in the very teeth of Mr. Calhoun’s bravado, it will gradually give way before the force of sound opinion.
July 29, 1837.
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. . .The oppression which our fathers suffered from Great Britain was nothing in comparison with that which the negroes experience at the hands of the slaveholders. It may be “abolition insolence” to say these things; but as they are truths which justice and humanity authorize us to speak, we shall not be too dainty to repeat them whenever a fitting occasion is presented. Every American who, in any way, authorizes or countenances slavery, is derelict to his duty as a christian, a patriot, and a man. Every one does countenance and authorize it, who suffers any opportunity of expressing his deep abhorrence of its manifold abominations to pass by unimproved. If the freemen of the north and west would but speak out on this subject in such terms as their consciences prompt, we should soon have to rejoice in the complete enfranchisement of our negro brethren of the south.
If an extensive and well-arranged insurrection of the blacks should occur in any of the slave states, we should probably see the freemen of this quarter of the country rallying around that “glorious emblem”1 which is so magniloquently spoken of in the foregoing extract, and marching beneath its folds to take sides with the slaveholders, and reduce the poor negroes, struggling for liberty, to heavier bondage than they endured before. It may be “abolition insolence” to call this “glorious emblem” the standard of oppression, but, at all events, it is unanswerable truth. For our part, we call it so in a spirit, not of insolence, not of pride speaking in terms of petulant contempt, but of deep humility and abasement. We confess, with the keenest mortification and chagrin, that the banner of our country is the emblem, not of justice and freedom, but of oppression; that it is the symbol of a compact which recognizes, in palpable and outrageous contradiction of the great principle of liberty, the right of one man to hold another as property; and that we are liable at any moment to be required, under all our obligations of citizenship, to array ourselves beneath it, and wage a war, of extermination if necessary, against the slave, for no crime but asserting his right of equal humanity—the self-evident truth that all men are created equal, and have an unalienable right of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Would we comply with such a requisition? No! rather would we see our right arm lopped from our body, and the mutilated trunk itself gored with mortal wounds, than raise a finger in opposition to men struggling in the holy cause of freedom. The obligations of citizenship are strong, but those of justice, humanity and religion stronger. We earnestly trust that the great contest of opinion which is now going on in this country may terminate in the enfranchisement of the slaves, without recourse to the strife of blood; but should the oppressed bondmen, impatient of the tardy progress of truth urged only in discussion, attempt to burst their chains by a more violent and shorter process, they should never encounter our arm, nor hear our voice, in the ranks of their opponents. We should stand a sad spectator of the conflict; and whatever commiseration we might feel for the discomfiture of the oppressors, we should pray that the battle might end in giving freedom to the oppressed.
[1 ]This is a reference to the American Colonization Society, founded 1817 to aid free blacks by resettling them in Africa. The Society founded the colony of Liberia in 1822, and at the time Leggett wrote was at the peak of its influence.—Ed.
[1 ]William Lloyd Garrison, leading advocate of the immediate abolition of slavery.—Ed.
[2 ]Member of Parliament from Ireland, well known for agitation on behalf of the rights of Roman Catholics and repeal of Ireland’s union with England.—Ed.
[3 ]Whig Senator from New York who led anti-slavery opposition to the Missouri Compromise of 1820.—Ed.
[1 ]The postmaster of Charleston, South Carolina, had refused to deliver abolitionist tracts.—Ed.
[1 ]Tappan was president of the American Anti-Slavery Society, a prominent abolitionist organization.—Ed.
[1 ]Sir Henry Percy (1366–1403) plotted against the English King Henry IV. The affair is treated in Shakespeare’s Henry IV.—Ed.
[2 ]From Joseph Addison’s play Cato (1716), which depicts Cato the Younger’s tragic last-ditch defense of the Roman Republic against Julius Caesar.—Ed.
[3 ]From a poem by Thomas Moore, satirist of the London Times. See The Critic (January 28, 1829), p. 153, for Leggett’s review of Moore.—Ed.
[1 ]A fish market in London, England, whose fish porters made it synonymous with coarse language.—Ed.
[2 ]Jack Cade led the Kentish insurrection against Henry the Sixth. See Leggett’s defense of him in “Utopia—Sir Thomas More—Jack Cade,” in Political Writings, vol. I, pp. 125–133.—Ed.
[1 ]Amos Kendall, Postmaster General of the United States, had refused to overrule the postmaster of Charleston’s decision not to deliver abolitionist tracts through the mail. Leggett devoted several editorials to denunciation of this postal censorship.—Ed.
[2 ]William Ellery Channing was a leading Unitarian clergyman and anti-slavery pamphleteer.—Ed.
[1 ]William C. Rives, senator from Virginia.—Ed.
[2 ]John C. Calhoun, senator from South Carolina.—Ed.
[* ]See his letter to Lord Sheffield, Miscellaneous Works, vol. 1, p. 349.
[3 ]A reference to Jonathan Dymond’s On the Applicability of the Pacific Principles of the New Testament to the Conduct of States, the first American edition of which was published in 1832.—Ed.
[1 ]Namely, the American flag.—Ed.