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A DISCOURSE, Delivered April 11, 1798, AT THE REQUEST OF AND BEFORE THE NEW-YORK SOCIETY FOR PROMOTING THE MANUMISSION OF SLAVES, AND PROTECTING SUCH OF THEM AS HAVE BEEN OR MAY BE LIBERATED.

By E. H. SMITH, A MEMBER OF THE SOCIETY.

NEW-YORK: Printed by T. & J. SWORDS, No. 99 Pearl-street.

1798.

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At a Stated Meeting of the New-York Society for promoting the Manumission of Slaves, &c. held at the Society's School-Room, in Cliff-street, the 15th of May, 1798:

THE Society having received information that the Annual Discourse on Slavery was delivered, by E. H. SMITH, on the 11th ult. agreeably to ap­pointment,—

Resolved,

That WILLIAM JOHNSON and WILLIAM DUNLAP be a Committee to wait on Mr. SMITH, and to request a Copy of his Discourse for publi­cation.

Extracted from the Minutes,
JACOB DOTY, Assistant Secretary.
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A DISCOURSE, &c.

Friends and Fellow Citizens,

THE occasion of our present meeting is solemn and affecting, melancholy but joyful. We are con­vened to celebrate the triumphs of benevolence; but we are convened also to the renewed exhibi­tion of the long, extensive, and malignant usur­pations of civil and domestic tyranny. Conflict­ing and tumultuous recollections press upon our minds—recollections of all that renders man de­testable and abhorred, amiable and illustrious. We have seen an exemplary spirit of justice, active and indefatigable, animate the bosoms of a few. The justice, the humanity, the policy, the interest, of the enslavers of men have been eloquently appealed to; but with partial success!—A few have listened and reflected; a few have felt and acted; but the many have continued unmoved, have persevered in the practice of their cruelties. Yet, startled and confused, in the midst of their career, by the sur­rounding progress of emancipation, they dread in­quiry, are less assured of their future success, and [Page 6] have mitigated their severity, or doubled their pre­cautions. In this state of the public sentiment, our duty is obvious and simple—to preserve the vivid recollection of the enormities which mark the reign of oppression; of the efforts which have been made to shorten or destroy it; of the motives which should compel us to proceed in this exalted labour: to disseminate the knowledge of them far and wide, to the young as well as to the old, to the enslaved as well as to the free; and, for ourselves, to act with gentleness but with firmness, with zeal but with prudence.

The most hasty outline of the history of slavery must commence with the formation of Society: the history of man is the history of slavery.

In the rude ages of the world, as in the most refined, superior force and superior cunning have equally been practised, and have both succeeded in enslaving one portion of the human race to another. What individual strength and personal address accomplished, in respect to one or a few, in the infancy of society, has been since extended and perpetuated by multiform combinations both of power and art. Ignorance, and credulity and fear, the companions of ignorance, furnished ample op­portunity for successful enterprize, where direct violence must have been hazardous and uncertain. Mental slavery, therefore, was of early origin and quick growth; it was assiduously cultivated; and the bands of superstition restrained those who would easily have shaken off the fetters of subjection. So important were these two methods of holding men [Page 7] in bondage to each other, so consentaneous in their principles, and so co-ordinate in their birth, that, in the outset, they were not infrequently united in the same person: the same person was at once king and pontiff. As society advanced, the agents of this tyranny were augmented; a seeming division of powers took place, while a real union was main­tained: to one party was committed the execution of their joint devices; to the other was entrusted the more silent and specious diffusion of opinions favourable to their views. The first subdued op­position in the field; the last undermined it in the family; and while the king led his chiefs to combat, the pontiff, surrounded by his priests, invested with the security of inviolable sanctity, refined his cun­ning, multiplied his wiles, and at length succeeded in subjugating the prince as well as the people. This was sometimes a delicate task; but the fear which even the most powerful despots entertain of their slaves, favoured the sacerdotal usurpation; and they were held by interest who secretly derided the pretensions of the prelacy.

As the state of society improved, the cultivators of superstition subtilized and perfected their arts. They saw and obeyed the necessity of governing less in appearance, while they redoubled their ex­ertions, by converting to their aid all the errors of judgment, all the violences of passion, and all the phenomena of nature, to hold an ampler tyranny over the minds of men. Unable absolutely to im­pede the progress of knowledge, they laboured to distort it to their own purposes; or, failing of suc­cess, [Page 8] imposed a more powerful obstacle, by exert­ing their influence for the destruction of the in­tractable sovereign, and enlightened philosopher.

While nations were exclusively ruled by the priesthood, or by tyrants who united in their own persons the offices of monarch and high-priest, no safe means of obtaining and consolidating authori­ty were neglected. Afterwards, upon a separation of the two functions of enslaving the bodies and subjugating the minds of men, the leaders of opi­nion strenuously supported all the outrages of the despot who was subservient to their wishes; and, whether he ground with the iron edge of oppression his own subjects, or the subjects of another, whe­ther his capricious frenzy doomed his own territo­ries, or the dominions of a neighbouring prince, to desolation, alike sustained his fury and panegy­rized his injustice. Under such circumstances, is it wonderful that slavery became widely diffused; that the sword and the robe alone were deemed worthy the ambition of the great; that all the arts which nourish and bless mankind were despised as servile; that men became the worshippers of men, and eagerly acknowledged themselves the servants of one, that they might more securely tyrannize over many.

Nor was this state of things limited to monar­chies. Forms of government rather varied the ap­plication of the spirit of despotism, than destroyed it. If the citizens of States denominated free, were less servile in their demeanour towards those who were at any time entrusted with authority, they [Page 9] were not the more disposed to relinquish their do­minion over the persons and minds of those whom they had subdued, by stealth, or artifice, or con­quest, to their pleasure. The subjects of the Great King, indeed, prostrated themselves in his pre­sence, whom they might now supplant, now flatter to accomplish their designs; but the frigid soldiery of Sparta, and the fickle citizens of Athens, held, with combined watchfulness, their numerous slaves in hopeless subjection. Here, still more than in the voluptuous capitals of the East, all mechanic arts were deemed base, and the free citizen would have held himself degraded by the personal per­formance of any of the offices which contribute to the immediate support of life. Rome and Carthage were full of slaves, whose condition was little dif­ferent from those now employed in our own coun­try; and the most illustrious statesmen and generals of all these ancient and celebrated Republics re­turned, through files of prostrate slaves, from the delivery of their fellow-citizens, from the success­ful assertion of their own freedom, to domineer, at home, over wretches by nature equally entitled to liberty and happiness.

If such were the conduct of the freest and most flourishing States of antiquity, in their most pros­perous days, what was to be expected from them when sunk and degraded by all the imbecility of voluptuousness and sloth, and all the vices of stu­pidity and ignorance?

The dark ages, as they are called, were empha­tically the torpor of the human race; the sleep, in [Page 10] which every horrid and disgustful dream tortured and disfigured the perverted mind. The introduc­tion of letters, from the East, into the new and rising republics of Italy, effected but little for the general relief of slavery. Feodality and superstition bound in double fetters the mass of mankind. The invention of printing was equally without sudden benefit. The discovery of gun-powder contributed more speedily to this end, by equalizing the powers of men. And the reformation, attempted by others, but accomplished by Luther and Calvin, made a deeper inroad into this savage constitution of socie­ty. From this moment the foundations of slavery were shaken. The pillar of the church was its proudest column. It was no longer the sanctuary of the oppressor; and the vestibule of inquiry once safely past, nothing could protect the interior of the temple from the reiterated attacks of the keen spirit of investigation: its lofty turrets, and its ample walls, were destined successively to thunder to the ground. Thence forward, the progress of social amelioration has been constant, though slow.

While these transactions were changing the face of Europe, the discovery and settlement of Ame­rica opened a new field for the execution of every noble, as well as every baneful enterprize. What was done, need not be repeated. The melancholy recollection oppresses even us, whose immediate ancestors bore so little share in these detestable events. Scarcely was the sword of extermination laid aside, half sated with the blood of its innu­merable victims, when fresh crimes were devised [Page 11] for the curse of this new-discovered world. A gal­lant nation, by whose generous efforts their na­tive land had been rescued from the long dominion of brave but hated conquerors;—a nation that had led the way in naval and commercial enterprize;—whose empire, narrow at home, had been extended, by the vigour of its councils and the prowess of its chiefs, to the distant shores of Asia, of Africa, and of America, were the first t [...] violate the noble principles by which they had been guided in their own defence, and to commence the abominable traffic in their fellow men. Their example was speedily followed by others; and they who had con­tended with the armies of a monarch, who had brought a king to the scaffold, who deserted their country to preserve their civil and religious liberty, they were the first to imitate this dark proceeding, and to engage in this abhorred commerce. The rivalry of some nations, and the avarice of others, multiplied and extended the evil; and while the consciences and the reason of the European pro­prietors of America were paralized, or slept in thoughtless repose, African subjection and domestic slavery were propagated, from the frozen bays of the north, to the icy and tempestuous oceans of the south. The disease daily increased and gained vigour, while the patient was inconscious of its progress, or regarded it with the smile of self-con­gratulation, as desirable and felicitous.—Negro sla­very was universal—and the conduct of it, at home and abroad, was wrought into a system, pursued with an unrelenting spirit of enterprizing cruelty, [Page 12] and maintained by all the force of watchful and suspicious tyranny.

Such was the state of the subject in the then Colonies of Great-Britain, in the United States, when an obscure individual of a derided sect, start­led by a sudden conviction of the enormity of the crime, and the fearful consequences to result from its continuance, sounded the alarm of forsaken jus­tice and violated humanity, deplored the treachery of man to man, and denounced the disobedience of mortals to the Immortal. The loud appeals of Woolman were succeeded by the gender, but more touching expostulations of Benezet. The first was a sudden torrent, dashed into foam against impene­trable rocks, yet scattered over and slightly moisten­ing the surrounding soil: the second, a deep, silent, and diffused stream, that percolates the sands, dis­solves the least consolidated rocks, bubbling and oozing forth through a thousand passages and clefts, and spreading over and fertilizing an extensive ter­ritory. Encouraged by the example of these men, or awakened by their admonitions, new advocates for the oppressed arose. But they increased their own zeal more than they augmented the charity of others. Their success was small—their advances slow. Still they advanced. The fears and jealousies of the holders of slaves were, at length, alarmed; and oppression, which, at first, derided the feeble efforts of its adversaries, and contemned them as the frantic revels of insanity or folly, was rouzed into action, and animated into speech. This was a mighty triumph for the cause of humanity. [Page 13] Truth and Reason are all-powerful if they gain an audience. The arguments of Falsehood are op­posed to them, as cobwebs in the hands of Samp­son. To have obtained a parley with their adver­sary, is to have half atchieved a victory. The par­ley has been obtained; the conferences have been carried on with ardour; the enemy have maintain­ed their ground with obstinacy; but they are every where foiled and beaten down; they are driven to their last subterfuges; and victory begins to in­cline the balance of final superiority on the side of justice.

The holders of slaves, in the outset of the con­ [...]est, ventured to place their defence on the ground of Justice. The rights of conquest, the denuncia­tions of Jehovah, and the claims of superior intel­lect, were severally and conjointly urged in their behalf. They purchased the victims of unsuccess­ful war of their victorious masters; they obeyed the prophetic voice of Heaven, whether they sub­jugated the accursed seed of Cain, distinguished from the righteous progeny of Seth, by their me­lancholy hue, or subdued to servants [themselves the children of Japhet, dwelling in the tents of Shem,] the offspring of degenerate Ham; they but exercised the authority with which they were invested, when to man was given dominion over the beasts of the field, the fowls of the air, and all things else which have life and motion.—They forgot that war, but in self-defence, that hostile incursion, was alike a violation of justice, whether covered with defeat, or crowned with success; that [Page 14] men born to equal rights, though they might for­feit them by crime, could not be deprived of them by force; that no claim could be founded on the infraction of right; and they concealed, or hoped to conceal, the odious cause of those conquests on which they built their pretensions, since that cause existed in their own injustice, in their own avarice of oppression. They forgot that the same Jehovah who inflicted punishment on the first fratricide, did not extend it to his offspring; and that the mark which distinguished him from men was a token of mercy. They forgot that the curse was limited to the lineal descendants of one of the children of the brutal son of Noah; that no industry could trace the connection between this supposed ancestor and his supposed progeny; that, whatever might be the will of the Deity, in respect to any particular race of men, nothing could justify another for inflicting unprovoked injury upon them; that the code from which they derived their pretended authority to en­slave one portion of their fellow-men, declared all to be brethren, the children of one parent, the par­takers of the same inheritance; that he whom they acknowledged as their Saviour, proclaimed himself equally the saviour of all men; and that, the future destiny of all being the same, they were unequivo­cally entitled to the same present advantages. They forgot that the differences in the talents and erudi­tion of men arose simply from external circumstan­ces; that the same course or species of events which now elevated the inhabitants of Europe and their descendants to the summit of political pre-eminence, [Page 15] formerly as much distinguished the progenitors of their unhappy slaves from the rest of mankind; that the cradle of the sciences was in Africa, and their first nurslings, and their earliest fathers, Africans.—All this they forgot—but they were reminded of it; they were silent, but they were not ashamed.

Their new plea was founded on Humanity,—O impudence of vice!—on that humanity by them so violated and trampled on. They removed ignorant and unhappy beings, from regions of barbarism and superstition, to countries enlightened by knowledge and adorned with arts. They brought them to a christian country, where the true God was acknow­ledged and worshipped, where his ordinances were promulgated and explained, and where access was easy to the only means of a virtuous present and happy future life. Here, fed, clothed, instructed in numerous arts, and with opportunities for religious improvement, how much better their condition than in their native realms!—Gentle preachers of humanity! generous instructors of the savage and the ignorant! It was for this, then, that ye crossed seas and oceans, braving innumerable toils and dangers; for this that ye excited murderous wars between peaceful and friendly neighbours; for this that ye tore away, sundering them from their native country, from each other, whole tribes,—parents and children, husband and wife, the infirm and the hardy,—massacreing perhaps, or leaving to perish, the aged and the little one; for this that ye bound them with iron, pressed them like bales of cloth together into the same hold, without distinc­tion [Page 15] of sex,—excluding them from light and air; for this that ye hurried them to frozen, or to burn­ing regions, scourged them to incessant toil, and tortured them into unresisting submission; it was for this that all these exertions were made, and so long continued—in obedience to the impulses of humanity, and the injunctions of religion. Hoary and hallowed apologists for avarice and oppression! who constituted you judges of the virtue and hap­piness of others? who authorized your forcible in­terference in their concerns? who made you arbi­ters of their destiny? Had ye gone to them in simplicity and truth, with love in your hearts, be­nevolence in your aspects, full of kindness, and full of instruction; had you won them by an indefati­gable and disinterested zeal in their behalf, subdu­ed them by the parental tenderness of your con­duct, and taught them to reverence you for the purity of your lives; had you charmed them to peace, and led them to the ample source of know­ledge, converting their country into a garden, and themselves into social and refined beings; then might ye have talked of humanity; then might ye have boasted of the sincerity of your devotion. But ye have been as tigers and as wolves. Ye have en­tered the tents of Africa as hyaenas; and the whole land is devoted to carnage; is waste and desolate.

It was madness that dictated the plea of huma­nity in favour of the oppressors of the Africans. The subtiler spirits of those who had been less ac­customed to shelter their conduct under the pre­text of religion, suggested the more obvious and [Page 17] more complex justification of Policy. They cited the example of all former nations. Among them, whether governed by one, the few, or the many, slavery universally obtained. It secured the thrones of princes; it occasionally might protect the aristo­cracy against encroachments; it delivered the citi­zen from servile labour, free to the care of govern­ment, the cultivation of science, the pursuit of gain, and the extension of his country's power. In all, it fostered and unyielding spirit against foreign sub­jection; and it generated or increased the passion, while it provided the means, for the accomplish­ment of schemes of aggrandizement and glory:—the legitimate and only aim of the monarch and the statesman.—Wretched and feeble sophistry! what, are we to be bound by the miserable example of others, or shall we be permitted to take counsel with our reason? But, are they not coincident in warning us against the policy proposed? Whether we regard the political or the social condition of the States that have authorized slavery, whether we consider its effects on their happiness or their power, the con­clusion is equally against it. The safety and du­rable felicity of a government depend absolutely on the attachment of its subjects or citizens; and at­tachment can only be founded on a sense of the blessings it confers. Power can never be steadily maintained, nor effectually exercised, for a long period, but from the united exertions of a whole nation. This union must flow from mutual con­fidence, of the people and the government, of the citizens in each other. The only solid basis of [Page 18] confidence is morality. The same means which per­petuate power, secure happiness. Nations, indeed, may exist for a time; they may enjoy a temporary success, while they disregard the dictates of justice, and trample on the rights of half mankind: a de­vouring fire may suddenly burst forth and prostrate the neighbouring forests; a tornado may devastate a wide extent of harvest; an unexpected swell of the ocean may lay waste the labours and overwhelm the habitations of men: but, as in the natural, so in the political or moral world, all these violent agi­tations are of short duration. They even contain the elements of their own destruction, or the re­compence for their own fury. The degree of power is diminished with its extent, as its security is by its injustice; and as no nation has hitherto attempt­ed to obtain universal dominion on equitable prin­ciples, so none has hitherto been able to preserve what little it has gained. Contemptible and ab­horred is that policy which, whether it aim by ge­neral or domestic subjection to secure preponderat­ing influence and authority, sacrifices on the altars of avarice and ambition public virtue and private happiness. The vultures of horror and remorse hover over the aceldama of morality to which its ferocious triumphs convert the earth.

If honesty be indeed the best policy, then, ex­claimed the tyrants of the Africans, if it be indeed the soundest policy that nations can pursue to ad­here with inflexible obstinacy to the decrees of jus­tice, still it is for individual interest, and thus for the national benefit, that slavery be permitted. We [Page 19] are the proprietors of a soil, the sojourners in a cli­mate, unfriendly to health, and hostile to industry. Our destiny has cast us here, and we must live, and we are desirous of enjoying life. By introducing slaves, we do but secure this by other means than are necessary in more fortunate regions. We bring them to climates like their own; to a cultivation for which they are fitted by nature; and we derive that wealth and that power from the labours of an ignorant race of men, which could not be obtain­ed by our own efforts, and which are justly due to us, from them, for our superior knowledge, our intellectual pre-eminence.—Blind and fatal infa­tuation! what is the interest of man? Sloth, in­temperance, wealth, and capricious despotism? Or is it to labour for the happiness of mankind, and to find our own in the creation of theirs? To pre­serve, to the extremest verge of life, a mind and body equal to every exigence, untainted by disease, unpolluted by vice, unembittered by remorse?—Consider it simply as relative to the acquisition of wealth. The argument from the effects of soil and climate applies only to a part of the countries which permit domestic slavery. In these, numerous ex­amples demonstrate the falsity of the assertions of its advocates. Freemen, and white men, can la­bour there; the mortality among them is not greater than among slaves; and their toil is vastly more productive: they have an interest in what they do. Much of the difficulty now experienced, and much of the mortality, would be obviated by a change in the objects and mode of culture; and [Page 20] the superior productiveness of the soil, to that of more temperate regions, exacts a degree of toil surprizingly less to answer all the claims of nature and of luxury. But, were this not obviously true, thus might we address the thoughtless tyrants of the Africans,—consider the strict connection be­tween vice and misery, and the certain, inevitable punishment which injustice draws upon itself. Look to the millions of unappropriated lands, ignorant of the plough, profuse of wealth, and exempt from pestilence. Haste! look not behind you! fly the accursed soil which, for your subsistence, requires to be nursed with the tears of innocents, and fat­tened with the blood of men! Fly, while the vengeful sword of retribution is yet suspended! Haste to the more fortunate climes beyond you; learn justice; restrain your lustful passions; and find your true interest in temperance, and in virtue!

The fate of the practice of oppression has been similar to that of every other vice: the more it has been investigated, the less defensible, the more odi­ous has it appeared. Plea after plea has been sug­gested; each, in its turn, has been controverted and set aside. Few slave-holders, capable of com­prehending truth, have attempted to re [...]ute the reasonings by which the justice, the humanity, the policy of the slave-trade, and the subserviency of slavery to national and individual interest, have been disproved. Yet, so much are men the slaves of habit, so closely does selfishness cling to our bo­soms, so difficult is error of eradication, that, foiled in these topics of defence, the advocates of slavery [Page 21] have resorted to another.—We admit, say they, that slavery is unjust, abominable; an outrage on humanity; contrary to all sound maxims of policy; and hostile to the interests of a people: but, then, what shall we do? Most sincerely do we wish that this curse had never visited our country. But it is entailed upon us by our fathers; it is inter­woven with every part of our social organization; and we can not erase the blot, without destroying the fabric. All things are just, but all things are not expedient.—Alas! how multiform is error! how infinitely is it propagated! how does it appear in the very midst of our sincerest labours! and con­found our most faithful councils! It is by inter­twining itself with truth that it leads so many, even virtuous, minds astray; nor could the most subtle enemy of justice have devised an argument more likely to mislead than this before us, which steals upon our feelings, while it affects to appeal only to our reason. In fact, the very motives urged here for the continuance of slavery, are those which most forcibly demand its abolition. Has the slave-trade really devolved all these misfortunes upon the coun­tries which have permitted it,—put an end to it immediately. This may be done without materi­ally affecting slavery. At least, here it may be done. The United States do not, like the West-Indies, require a prodigious annual importation to supply the waste of barbarity and disease. Cruel as is their employment, still they propagate in a proportion not much below their consumption. But, if sla­very be a curse, let no time be lost in attempting [Page 22] to remove it. If its sudden removal be dangerous, let it be gradually accomplished; but let it be ac­complished. What strange reasoning is that which would persuade us to continue and increase a mis­chief, because it has existence at this moment!—O men, free to acknowledge your errors, but indolent to reform them, put, at length, the axe to the root of this tree of evil! If you fear left its sudden fall bury you in its ruins, proceed with caution! Twig after twig, branch after branch, shall decay and fall; and your grateful posterity shall, without dan­ger, cast down the bare and withered trunk.

It was Agathocles, I think, who, when the vic­torious arms of Carthage threatened Sicily with subjugation, suddenly withdrew from its defence, and led his soldiers into Africa, into the country of his enemies. The spirit of this measure has some­times been commended; but its ill-success has taken off the glare of false courage by which it was surrounded, and proved how much more certainly it accelerated the defeat of its conductor.

It certainly deserves to be numbered among the singular contrivances of minds immersed in error, that, in the course and progress of the contention between the supporters of slavery and the advocates of justice and humanity, the first, after ample ac­knowledgments of the weakness of their cause in the enumerated particulars, should, at length, come to retort the charge of injustice on the last. The imbecility of this argument, if argument it may be called, is a favourable omen. It bespeaks the near triumph of truth; the approaching deliverance [Page 23] of the oppressed. It is the fate of error to lose strength and consistency by every examination; that all its pleas shall regularly diminish in effect, as they regularly succeed to each other. The mo­ment that the slave-holder acknowledged the injus­tice of slavery, that moment the slow, but certain, death-wound was inflicted upon it. The apologists for this pernicious system of domestic oppression, have now reached to the extremity of subterfuge. Their last argument can impose on no discerning mind; and henceforward they must maintain by force, what they can not support by reason. But what is this charge of injustice which they exhibit so vehemently against the assertors of the rights of the innocent? We did not, say they, commence the system of slavery. We found it already esta­blished. The laws of our country authorized the possession of a property in human flesh. They have hitherto maintained us in it. Is it not unjust to deprive us of that which the social regulations, you would now change, have conferred upon us? Will you, at once, despoil us of that which we have purchased on the faith of these regulations? Are you prepared, by a single vote, and without any compensation, to destroy so large a portion of all our wealth? Does not the law equally protect pro­perty, whether it exist in animate or inanimate substance? whether it be clothed with the bestial or human form? Dare you commit so horrid an injustice?—Miserable sophisters! were the law to authorize you to enslave your fellow-freemen of one State, or one County, should you act justly in [Page 24] availing yourselves of its sanction? Were you born to the inheritance of an ample estate in money, the fruits of your fathers' repeated thefts, could you vindicate your conduct in withholding it from the rightful proprietors, by any law of descents? Shall the legislators of a great nation be denied the power, which pertains to every individual of that nation, of acknowledging their errors, and labouring to correct them? Shall the most evident and inesti­mable interests of a whole community, not only its present, but its future interests, require the dis­continuance of a system dangerous to our security, hostile to our property, and pernicious to our mo­rals, and shall the short-sighted selfishness of a small, or even a considerable part of that community, de­termine its permanence? But, what is this com­pensation which you are denied? Is not the con­stant labour of a slave, for fifteen, or for ten, years, a sufficient compensation for the care of protecting his infancy? Would the tyrants demand triple re­compence for their injustice? Recompence they shall have, and thrice threefold,—but let them tremble in the expectation!

In the existing circumstances of society, encum­bered as we are with this mighty evil, which slavery has cast upon us, we are only free to chuse, amid variety of embarrassments. There is no fear that even this factitious right of property, so much in­sisted on, will not be sufficiently respected. Alas! there is no hope but that it long continue trium­phantly to oppose all the efforts of benevolence. But, were it justly insisted on, what demons of ma­lignant [Page 25] cruelty paralize the senses and the reason of legislators? Do they not see the ruin which sur­rounds us? Are they unconscious of the poison which hovers over every roof, lurks in every house, and infects every cup? Wait they till the venders of pestilence, till the manufacturers of plagues, re­linquish their productive and desolating craft, be­fore they labour for the restoration of health, for the prevention of disease? What! will they foster the fury, relax the fetters which partially confine her, and imp her with new wings, that she may more vigorously pursue the work of devastation?—You, yes you, the Legislators of America, you are the real upholders of slavery! You, yes you, Le­gislators of this Commonwealth, you foster and protect it here! Is it not recognized by your laws? and in the very face of your Constitution? of that instrument which you maintained by your arms, and sealed with your blood? Have not those laws authorized, systematized, and protected, and do they not now protect it? If you fear the clamors of the enslavers of men, or if you acknowledge the justice of their claims [...] compensation, it is you who sanction, you who uphold the crime. It is you who are deaf to the demands of justice, the sighs of humanity, the representations of policy, the calls of interest, the suggestions of expediency, the warning voice of domestic tranquillity. It is you who shut the ear, who close the eye, who clench the hand, insensible to every motive which should most determine men to hear, to see, and to [Page 26] act. You perpetrate, you perpetuate, you immor­talize, injustice—and all "for so much trash as may be grasped thus." The opposers of justice do not read, think, reason, feel,—they do not so much as listen. They admit but one idea, that of gain from the labour of their slaves; they are occupied but with one care, that of maintaining their au­thority. And you nourish that gain, you cherish that care, you defend with double mounds that monstrous authority, at the hazard, if not with the sacrifice, of all the dearest interests of society, of its very existence. These you hazard, when the remedy is obvious, certain, easy to be obtained, and safe to be applied. Mad insensibility! the little interest of the moment, the gratifications of va­nity, and the contests of passion, a market, a pa­lace, or a strip of land, engross your thoughts and dissipate your treasures, while the welfare of a na­tion sleeps unregarded, while thousands of your fellow-beings, children of the same father, and in­heritors of the same destiny, eat the bitter bread of slavery, writhe under the lash of cruelty, and sink into the untimely grave amid the taunts of oppression!—Amen! so be it! and so shall be the retribution!*

The conduct of men conscious of their villainy, is always and every where the same. Accused, they [Page 27] attempt their justification; but, failing here, they strive to overwhelm with censure those who have detected their baseness, and called upon them to repair their injustice. Their last efforts are direct­ed to the destruction of the subjects of their op­pression, in the vain hope of palliating its enormi­ty, by proving it to have been merited. As in other cases, so has it fared in this. Incapable of vindicating themselves, or of effectually misrepre­senting the purity of our motives, the encouragers of slavery have fallen on the miserable Africans; as though their vices and their follies constituted a reason for subjecting them to bondage, and bend­ing them with reiterated wrong. Shallow subter­fuge! feeble malice! Every motive urged against them ought to interest us in their behalf. Are they dull and stupid, it is ours to startle them into thought, and rouze them to inquiry; are they ig­norant, it is ours to cultivate and instruct them; base, ours to elevate; vicious, ours to reclaim them. The more forlorn and hopeless their con­dition, the more energetic and persevering should be our efforts. The measure of our benevolence should be capacious as their wants; and our zeal commensurate with their insensibility. Stupidity, ignorance, folly, vice, have each its several remedy; and our security as well as interest, our duty as well as happiness, demand the application. What must be the texture of his heart who can find reason in the ignorance, in the vices, and in the sufferings of men, in all that most can render them objects of [Page 28] compassion and of charity, for insuring that igno­rance, augmenting those vices, and adding to these sufferings the yoke of bondage, and the sting of torture? Call you him man, or demon?

The experience of many years, evidence palpa­ble to the most hardened and obstinate sense, has demonstrated the capacity of the Blacks. The very vices of which they stand so bitterly accused, de­monstrate it. They, like all men else, are the crea­tures of education, of example, of circumstances, of external impressions. Make them outcasts and vagabonds, thrust them into the society of drunk­ards and of thieves, shut from them the fair book and salutary light of knowledge, degrade them into brutes, and trample them in the dust, and you must expect, them to be vile and wretched, dissolute and lawless, base and stupid. Madmen! would you "gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?"

But, notwithstanding the degraded condition of the Africans, and their descendants, among us,—a condition to which they have been reduced, or in which they have been retained, by those who re­proach them with it, and would offer it as an ex­cuse for their own inhumanity and injustice,—still they exhibit many examples of humble, but of cheering virtue. We not only see them irreproach­ably employed in various mechanic occupations, but, in some few instances, elevated to the illustri­ous offices of instructors in learning, and inculcators of morality. The desk, and the pulpit, have wit­nessed their triumphs over all the efforts of blind [Page 29] and malignant prejudice. Already they begin to feel their own worth as men; already are they im­pressed with some just sense of the nature of those exertions which are making in their behalf; already have they attained to some conception of that pru­dent and virtuous conduct which is the best reward for all our toils; already may they challenge the palm from many of their whiter brethren. Per­ceive you not that spirit of improvement—flow thought it be, yet visible—which diffuses itself among them? Observe you not their growing knowledge, their increasing industry, their soften­ing manners, their correcter morals? Hear you not that sigh, wakened by your benevolent sympa­thy? Mark you not that tear of grateful joy, silent­ly descending? See you not that [...]able figure, that casts himself at your feet, that kisses your hand, that clasps your knees, ‘fathers and benefactors of our race,’ that exclaims—‘the sons of Africa feel your virtue at their souls;—their hearts, their hands, their lives, are devoted to your service.’

Go! hapless progeny of a violated parent! cul­tivate peace, order, knowledge. Let your pati­ence grow with your wrongs. Let your hearts learn forgiveness, your hands labour for your ty­rants, your lives re [...]ute their calumnies. Go! assured, that, as for us, we have well considered what awaits us,—the extent of surrounding ob­stacles, and their duration, and have resolved, never to quench our zeal, to withhold our care, to intermit our labours, never to drop the lan­guage [Page 30] of persuasion, and forget the tone of jus­tice, till we behold you disenthralled of bonds, reinstated in your rights, blessed with science, and adorned with virtue.

THE END.

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