Two letters to the 'Jeffersonian and Times', Richmond, Va.
A friend has banded me a late number of your paper, containing a brief
notice of a pamphlet, which I have recently published on the subject of
From an occasional perusal of your paper, I have formed a favorable
opinion of your talent and independence. Compelled to dissent from some
of your political sentiments, I still give you full credit for the lofty
tone of sincerity and manliness with which these sentiments are avowed
I perceive that since the adjustment of the tariff question a new subject
of discontent and agitation seems to engross your attention.
The "accursed tariff" has no sooner ceased to be the stone of stumbling
and the rock of offence, than the "abolition doctrines of the Northern
enthusiasts," as you are pleased to term the doctrines of your own
Jefferson, furnish, in your opinion, a sufficient reason for poising the
"Ancient Dominion" on its sovereignty, and rousing every slaveowner to
military preparations, until the entire South, from the Potomac to the
Gulf, shall bristle with bayonets, "like quills upon the fretful
In proof of a conspiracy against your "vested rights," you have commenced
publishing copious extracts from the pamphlets and periodicals of the
abolitionists of New England and New York. An extract from my own
pamphlet you have headed "The Fanatics," and in introducing it to your
readers you inform them that "it exhibits, in strong colors, the morbid
spirit of that false and fanatical philanthropy, which is at work in the
Northern states, and, to some extent, in the South."
Gentlemen, so far as I am personally concerned in the matter, I feel no
disposition to take exceptions to any epithets which you may see fit to
apply to me or my writings. A humble son of New England--a tiller of her
rugged soil, and a companion of her unostentatious yeomanry--it matters
little, in any personal consideration of the subject, whether the voice
of praise or opprobrium reaches me from beyond the narrow limits of my
But when I find my opinions quoted as the sentiment of New England, and
then denounced as dangerous, "false and fanatical;" and especially when I
see them made the occasion of earnest appeals to the prejudices and
sectional jealousies of the South, it becomes me to endeavor to establish
their truths, and defend them from illegitimate influences and unjust
In the first place, then, let me say, that if it be criminal to publicly
express a belief that it is in the power of the slave states to
emancipate their slaves, with profit and safety to themselves, and that
such is their immediate duty, a majority of the people of New England are
wholly guiltless. Of course, all are nominally opposed to slavery; but
upon the little band of abolitionists should the anathemas of the slave-
holder be directed, for they are the agitators of whom you complain, men
who are acting under a solemn conviction of duty, and who are bending
every energy of their minds to the accomplishment of their object.
And that object is the overthrow of slavery in the United States, by such
means only as are sanctioned by law, humanity, and religion.
I shall endeavor, gentlemen, as briefly as may be, to give you some of
our reasons for opposing slavery and seeking its abolition; and,
secondly, to explain our mode of operation; to disclose our plan of
emancipation, fully and entirely. We wish to do nothing darkly; frank
republicans, we acknowledge no double-dealing. At this busy season of
the year, I cannot but regret that I have not leisure for such a
deliberate examination of the subject as even my poor ability might
warrant. My remarks, penned in the intervals of labor, must necessarily
be brief, and wanting in coherence.
We seek the abolishment of slavery
1. Because it is contrary to the law of God.
In your paper of the 2d of 7th mo., the same in which you denounce the
"false and fanatical philanthropy" of abolitionists, you avow yourselves
members of the Bible Society, and bestow warm and deserved encomiums on
the "truly pious undertaking of sending the truth among all nations."
You, therefore, gentlemen, whatever others may do, will not accuse me of
"fanaticism," if I endeavor to sustain my first great reason for opposing
slavery by a reference to the volume of inspiration:
"Therefore, all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you do
ye even so to them."
"Wherefore now let the fear of the Lord be upon you, take heed and do it;
for there is no iniquity with the Lord, nor respect of persons."
"Is not this the fast that I have chosen? To loose the bands of
wickedness; to undo the heavy burdens and let the oppressed go free, and
that ye break every yoke?"
"If a man be found stealing any of his brethren, and maketh merchandise
of him, or selling him, that thief shall die."
"Of a truth, I perceive that God is no respecter of persons."
"And he that stealeth a man and selleth him, or if he be found in his
hands, he shall surely be put to death."
2. Because it is an open violation of all human equality, of the laws of
Nature and of nations.
The fundamental principle of all equal and just law is contained in the
following extract from Blackstone's Commentaries, Introduction, sec. 2.
"The rights which God and Nature have established, and which are
therefore called natural rights, such as life and liberty, need not the
aid of human laws to be more effectually vested in every man than they
are; neither do they receive any additional strength when declared by
municipal laws to be inviolable: on the contrary, no human legislation
has power to abridge or destroy there, unless the owner shall himself
commit some act that amounts to a forfeiture."
Has the negro committed such offence? Above all, has his infant child
forfeited its unalienable right?
Surely it can be no act of the innocent child.
Yet you must prove the forfeiture, or no human legislation can deprive
that child of its freedom.
Its black skin constitutes the forfeiture!
What! throw the responsibility upon God! Charge the common Father of the
white and the black, He, who is no respecter of persons, with plundering
His unoffending children of all which makes the boon of existence
desirable; their personal liberty!
"We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal;
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights;
that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."--
[Declaration of Independence, from the pen of Thomas Jefferson.]
In this general and unqualified declaration, on the 4th of July, 1776,
all the people of the United States, without distinction of color, were
proclaimed free, by the delegates of the people of those states assembled
in their highest sovereign capacity.
For more than half a century we have openly violated that solemn
3. Because it renders nugatory the otherwise beneficial example of our
free institutions, and exposes us to the scorn and reproach of the
liberal and enlightened of other nations.
"Chains clank and groans echo around the walls of their spotless
"Man to be possessed by man! Man to be made property of! The image of
the Deity to be put under the yoke! Let these usurpers show us their
"When I am indulging in my views of American prospects and American
liberty, it is mortifying to be told that in that very country a large
portion of the people are slaves! It is a dark spot on the face of the
nation. Such a state of things cannot always exist."--[Lafayette.]
"I deem it right to raise my humble voice to convince the citizens of
America that the slaveholding states are held in abomination by all those
whose opinion ought to be valuable. Man is the property of man in about
one half of the American States: let them not therefore dare to prate of
their institutions or of their national freedom, while they hold their
fellow-men in bondage! Of all men living, the American citizen who is
the owner of slaves is the most despicable. He is a political hypocrite
of the very worst description. The friends of humanity and liberty in
Europe should join in one universal cry of shame on the American slave-
holders! 'Base wretches!' should we shout in chorus; 'base wretches!
how dare you profane the temple of national freedom, the sacred fane of
republican rites, with the presence and the sufferings of human beings in
chains and slavery!'"--[Daniel O'Connell.]
4. Because it subjects one portion of our American brethren to the
unrestrained violence and unholy passions of another.
Here, gentlemen, I might summon to my support a cloud of witnesses, a
host of incontrovertible, damning facts, the legitimate results of a
system whose tendency is to harden and deprave the heart. But I will not
descend to particulars. I am willing to believe that the majority of the
masters of your section of the country are disposed to treat their
unfortunate slaves with kindness. But where the dreadful privilege of
slave-holding is extended to all, in every neighborhood, there must be
individuals whose cupidity is unrestrained by any principle of humanity,
whose lusts are fiercely indulged, whose fearful power over the bodies,
nay, may I not say the souls, of their victims is daily and hourly
Will the evidence of your own Jefferson, on this point, be admissible?
"The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise, of
the most boisterous passions; the most unremitting despotism on the one
part, and degrading submission on the other. Our children see this, and
learn to imitate it. The parent storms, the child looks on, catches the
lineaments of wrath, puts on the same airs in the circle of smaller
slaves, gives loose to the worst of passions; and thus nursed, educated,
and daily exercised in tyranny, cannot fail to be stamped by it with
odious peculiarities. The man must be a prodigy who can retain his
morals and manners undepraved by such circumstances."--[Notes on
Virginia, p. 241.]
"Il n'existe a la verite aucune loi qui protege l'esclave le mauvais
traitement du maitre," says Achille Murat, himself a Floridian slave-
holder, in his late work on the United States.
Gentlemen, is not this true? Does there exist even in Virginia any law
limiting the punishment of a slave? Are there any bounds prescribed,
beyond which the brutal, the revengeful, the intoxicated slave-master,
acting in the double capacity of judge and executioner, cannot pass?
You will, perhaps, tell me that the general law against murder applies
alike to master and slave. True; but will you point out instances of
masters suffering the penalty of that law for the murder of their slaves?
If you examine your judicial reports you will find the wilful murder of a
slave decided to be only a trespass!--[Virginia Reports, vol. v. p. 481,
Harris versus Nichols.]
It indeed argues well for Virginian pride of character, that latterly,
the law, which expressly sanctioned the murder of a slave, who in the
language of Georgia and North Carolina, "died of moderate correction,"
has been repealed. But, although the letter of the law is changed, its
practice remains the same. In proof of this, I would refer to
Brockenborough and Holmes' Virginia Cases, p. 258.
In Georgia and North Carolina the murder of a slave is tolerated and
justified by law, provided that in the opinion of the court he died "of
In South Carolina the following clause of a law enacted in 1740 is still
"If any slave shall suffer in his life, limbs, or members, when no white
person shall be present, or being present shall neglect or refuse to give
evidence concerning the same, in every such case the owner or other
person who shall have the care and government of the slave shall be
deemed and taken to be guilty of such offence; unless such owner or other
person can make the contrary appear by good and sufficient evidence, or
shall by his own oath clear and exculpate himself, which oath every court
where such offence shall be tried is hereby empowered to administer and
to acquit the offender accordingly, if clear proof of the offence be not
made by two witnesses at least, any law, usage, or custom to the contrary
Is not this offering a reward for perjury? And what shall we think of
that misnamed court of justice, where it is optional with the witnesses,
in a case of life and death, to give or withhold their testimony.
5. Because it induces dangerous sectional jealousies, creates of
necessity a struggle between the opposing interests of free and slave
labor, and threatens the integrity of the Union.
That sectional jealousies do exist, the tone of your paper, gentlemen, is
of itself an evidence, if indeed any were needed. The moral sentiment of
the free states is against slavery. The freeman has declared his
unwillingness that his labor should be reduced to a level with that of
slaves. Harsh epithets and harsh threats have been freely exchanged,
until the beautiful Potomac, wherever it winds its way to the ocean, has
become the dividing line, not of territory only, but of feeling,
interest, national pride, a moral division.
What shook the pillars of the Union when the Missouri question was
agitated? What but a few months ago arrayed in arms a state against the
Union, and the Union against a state?
From Maine to Florida, gentlemen, the answer must be the same, slavery.
6. Because of its pernicious influence upon national wealth and
Political economy has been the peculiar study of Virginia. But there are
some important truths connected with this science which she has hitherto
overlooked or wantonly disregarded.
Population increasing with the means of subsistence is a fair test of
By reference to the several censuses of the United States, it will be
seen that the white population increases nearly twice as fast in states
where there are few or no slaves as in the slave states.
Again, in the latter states the slave population has increased twice as
fast as the white. Let us take, for example, the period of twenty years,
from 1790 to 1810, and compare the increase of the two classes in three
of the Southern states.
Per cent. of whites. Per cent. of blacks.
Maryland 13 31
Virginia 24 38
North Carolina 30 70
The causes of this disproportionate increase, so inimical to the true
interests of the country, are very manifest.
A large proportion of the free inhabitants of the United States are
dependent upon their labor for subsistence. The forced, unnatural system
of slavery in some of the states renders the demand for free laborers
less urgent; they are not so readily and abundantly supplied with the
means of subsistence as those of their own class in the free states, and
as the necessaries of life diminish population also diminishes.
There is yet another cause for the decline of the white population. In
the free states labor is reputable. The statesman, whose eloquence has
electrified a nation, does not disdain in the intervals of the public
service to handle the axe and the hoe. And the woman whose beauty,
talents, and accomplishments have won the admiration of all deems it no
degradation to "look well to her household."
But the slave stamps with indelible ignominy the character of occupation.
It is a disgrace for a highborn Virginian or chivalrous Carolinian to
labor, side by side, with the low, despised, miserable black man.
Wretched must be the condition of the poorer classes of whites in a
slave-holding community! Compelled to perform the despised offices of
the slave, they can hardly rise above his level. They become the pariahs
of society. No wonder, then, that the tide of emigration flows from the
slave-cursed shores of the Atlantic to the free valleys of the West.
In New England the labor of a farmer or mechanic is worth from $150 to
$200 per annum. That of a female from $50 to $100. Our entire
population, with the exception of those engaged in mercantile affairs,
the professional classes, and a very few moneyed idlers, are working men
and women. If that of the South were equally employed (and slavery
apart, there is no reason why they should not be), how large an addition
would be annually made to the wealth of the country? The truth is, a
very considerable portion of the national wealth produced by Northern
labor is taxed to defray the expenses of twenty-five representatives of
Southern property in Congress, and to maintain an army mainly for the
protection of the slave-master against the dangerous tendencies of that
In the early and better days of the Roman Republic, the ancient warriors
and statesmen cultivated their fields with their own hands; but so soon
as their agriculture was left to the slaves, it visibly declined, the
once fertile fields became pastures, and the inhabitants of that garden
of the world were dependent upon foreign nations for the necessaries of
life. The beautiful villages, once peopled by free contented laborers,
became tenantless, and, over the waste of solitude, we see, here and
there, at weary distances, the palaces of the master, contrasting
painfully with the wretched cottages and subterranean cells of the slave.
In speaking of the extraordinary fertility of the soil in the early times
of the Republic, Pliny inquires, "What was the cause of these abundant
harvests? It was this, that men of rank employed themselves in the
culture of the fields; whereas now it is left to wretches loaded with
fetters, who carry in their countenances the shameful evidence of their
And what was true in the days of the Roman is now written legibly upon
the soil of your own Virginia. A traveller in your state, in
contemplating the decline of its agriculture, has justly remarked that,
"if the miserable condition of the negro had left his mind for
reflection, he would laugh in his chains to see how slavery has stricken
the land with ugliness."
Is the rapid increase of a population of slaves in itself no evil? In
all the slave states the increase of the slaves is vastly more rapid than
that of the whites or free blacks. When we recollect that they are under
no natural or moral restraint, careless of providing food or clothing for
themselves or their children; when, too, we consider that they are raised
as an article of profitable traffic, like the cattle of New England and
the hogs of Kentucky; that it is a matter of interest, of dollars and
cents, to the master that they should multiply as fast as possible, there
is surely nothing at all surprising in the increase of their numbers.
Would to heaven there were also nothing alarming!
7. Because, by the terms of the national compact, the free and the slave
states are alike involved in the guilt of maintaining slavery, and the
citizens of the former are liable, at any moment, to be called upon to
aid the latter in suppressing, at the point of the bayonet, the
insurrection of the slaves.
Slavery is, at the best, an unnatural state. And Nature, when her
eternal principles are violated, is perpetually struggling to restore
them to their first estate.
All history, ancient and modern, is full of warning on this point. Need
I refer to the many revolts of the Roman and Grecian slaves, the bloody
insurrection of Etruria, the horrible servile wars of Sicily and Capua?
Or, to come down to later times, to France in the fourteenth century,
Germany in the sixteenth, to Malta in the last? Need I call to mind the
untold horrors of St. Domingo, when that island, under the curse of its
servile war, glowed redly in the view of earth and heaven,--an open hell?
Have our own peculiar warnings gone by unheeded,--the frequent slave
insurrections of the South? One horrible tragedy, gentlemen, must still
be fresh in your recollection,--Southampton, with its fired dwellings and
ghastly dead! Southampton, with its dreadful associations, of the death
struggle with the insurgents, the groans of the tortured negroes, the
lamentations of the surviving whites over woman in her innocence and
beauty, and childhood, and hoary age!
"The hour of emancipation," said Thomas Jefferson, "is advancing in the
march of time. It will come. If not brought on by the generous energy
of our own minds, it will come by the bloody process of St. Domingo!"
To the just and prophetic language of your own great statesman I have but
a few words to add. They shall be those of truth and soberness.
We regard the slave system in your section of the country as a great
evil, moral and political,--an evil which, if left to itself for even a
few years longer, will give the entire South into the hands of the
The terms of the national compact compel us to consider more than two
millions of our fellow-beings as your property; not, indeed, morally,
really, de facto, but still legally your property! We acknowledge that
you have a power derived from the United States Constitution to hold this
"property," but we deny that you have any moral right to take advantage
of that power. For truth will not allow us to admit that any human law
or compact can make void or put aside the ordinance of the living God and
the eternal laws of Nature.
We therefore hold it to be the duty of the people of the slave-holding
states to begin the work of emancipation now; that any delay must be
dangerous to themselves in time and eternity, and full of injustice to
their slaves and to their brethren of the free states.
Because the slave has never forfeited his right to freedom, and the
continuance of his servitude is a continuance of robbery; and because, in
the event of a servile war, the people of the free states would be called
upon to take a part in its unutterable horrors.
New England would obey that call, for she will abide unto death by the
Constitution of the land. Yet what must be the feelings of her citizens,
while engaged in hunting down like wild beasts their fellow-men--brutal
and black it may be, but still oppressed, suffering human beings,
struggling madly and desperately for their liberty, if they feel and know
that the necessity of so doing has resulted from a blind fatality on the
part of the oppressor, a reckless disregard of the warnings of earth and
heaven, an obstinate perseverance in a system founded and sustained by
robbery and wrong?
All wars are horrible, wicked, inexcusable, and truly and solemnly has
Jefferson himself said that, in a contest of this kind, between the slave
and the master, "the Almighty has no attribute which could take side with
Understand us, gentlemen. We only ask to have the fearful necessity
taken away from us of sustaining the wretched policy of slavery by moral
influence or physical force. We ask alone to be allowed to wash our
hands of the blood of millions of your fellow-beings, the cry of whom is
rising up as a swift witness unto God against us.
8. Because all the facts connected with the subject warrant us in a most
confident belief that a speedy and general emancipation might be made
with entire safety, and that the consequences of such an emancipation
would be highly beneficial to the planters of the South.
Awful as may be their estimate in time and eternity, I will not,
gentlemen, dwell upon the priceless benefits of a conscience at rest, a
soul redeemed from the all-polluting influences of slavery, and against
which the cry of the laborer whose hire has been kept back by fraud does
not ascend. Nor will I rest the defence of my position upon the fact
that it can never be unsafe to obey the commands of God. These are the
old and common arguments of "fanatics" and "enthusiasts," melting away
like frost-work in the glorious sunshine of expediency and utility. In
the light of these modern luminaries, then, let us reason together.
A long and careful examination of the subject will I think fully justify
me in advancing this general proposition.
Wherever, whether in Europe, the East and West Indies, South America, or
in our own country, a fair experiment has been made of the comparative
expense of free and slave labor, the result has uniformly been favorable
to the former.
[See Brougham's Colonial Policy. Hodgdon's Letter to Jean Baptiste
Say. Waleh's Brazil. Official Letter of Hon. Mr. Ward, from
Mexico. Dr. Dickson's Mitigation of Slavery. Franklin on The
Peopling of Countries. Ramsay's Essay. Botham's Sugar Cultivation
in Batavia. Marsden's History of Sumatra. Coxe's Travels. Dr.
Anderson's Observations on Slavery. Storch's Political Economy.
Adam Smith. J. Jeremies' Essays. Humboldt's Travels, etc., etc.]
Here, gentlemen, the issue is tendered. Standing on your own ground of
expediency, I am ready to defend my position.
I pass from the utility to the safety of emancipation. And here,
gentlemen, I shall probably be met at the outset with your supposed
consequences, bloodshed, rapine, promiscuous massacre!
The facts, gentlemen! In God's name, bring out your facts! If slavery
is to cast over the prosperity of our country the thick shadow of an
everlasting curse, because emancipation is dreaded as a remedy worse than
the disease itself, let us know the real grounds of your fear.
Do you find them in the emancipation of the South American Republics? In
Hayti? In the partial experiments of some of the West India Islands?
Does history, ancient or modern, justify your fears? Can you find any
excuse for them in the nature of the human mind, everywhere maddened by
injury and conciliated by kindness? No, gentlemen; the dangers of
slavery are manifest and real, all history lies open for your warning.
But the dangers of emancipation, of "doing justly and loving mercy,"
exist only in your imaginations. You cannot produce one fact in
corroboration of your fears. You cannot point to the stain of a single
drop of any master's blood shed by the slave he has emancipated.
I have now given some of our reasons for opposing slavery. In my next
letter I shall explain our method of opposition, and I trust I shall be
able to show that there is nothing "fanatical," nothing
"unconstitutional," and nothing unchristian in that method.
In the mean time, gentlemen, I am your friend and well-wisher.
HAVERHILL, MASS., 22d 7th Mo., 1833.
The abolitionists of the North have been grossly misrepresented. In
attacking the system of slavery, they have never recommended any measure
or measures conflicting with the Constitution of the United States.
They have never sought to excite or encourage a spirit of rebellion among
the slaves: on the contrary, they would hold any such attempt, by
whomsoever made, in utter and stern abhorrence.
All the leading abolitionists of my acquaintance are, from principle,
opposed to war of all kinds, believing that the benefits of no war
whatever can compensate for the sacrifice of one human life by violence.
Consequently, they would be the first to deprecate any physical
interference with your slave system on the part of the general
They are, without exception, opposed to any political interposition of
the government, in regard to slavery as it exists in the states. For,
although they feel and see that the canker of the moral disease is
affecting all parts of the confederacy, they believe that the remedy lies
with yourselves alone. Any such interference they would consider
unlawful and unconstitutional; and the exercise of unconstitutional
power, although sanctioned by the majority of a republican government,
they believe to be a tyranny as monstrous and as odious as the despotism
of a Turkish Sultan.
Having made this disclaimer on the part of myself and my friends, let me
inquire from whence this charge of advocating the interference of the
general government with the sovereign jurisdiction of the states has
arisen? Will you, gentlemen, will the able editors of the United States
Telegraph and the Columbian Telescope, explain? For myself, I have
sought in vain among the writings of our "Northern Enthusiasts," and
among the speeches of the Northern statesmen and politicians, for some
grounds for the accusation.
The doctrine, such as it is, does not belong to us. I think it may be
traced home to the South, to Virginia, to her Convention of 1829, to the
speech of Ex-President Monroe, on the white basis question.
"As to emancipation," said that distinguished son of your state, "if ever
that should take place, it cannot be done by the state; it must be done
by the Union."
Again, "If emancipation can ever be effected, it can only be done with
the aid of the general government."
Gentlemen, you are welcome to your doctrine. It has no advocates among
the abolitionists of New England.
We aim to overthrow slavery by the moral influence of an enlightened
By a clear and fearless exposition of the guilt of holding property in
By analyzing the true nature of slavery, and boldly rebuking sin;
By a general dissemination of the truths of political economy, in regard
to free and slave labor;
By appeals from the pulpit to the consciences of men;
By the powerful influence of the public press;
By the formation of societies whose object shall be to oppose the
principle of slavery by such means as are consistent with our obligations
to law, religion, and humanity;
By elevating, by means of education and sympathy, the character of the
free people of color among us.
Our testimony against slavery is the same which has uniformly, and with
so much success, been applied to prevailing iniquity in all ages of the
world, the truths of divine revelation.
Believing that there can be nothing in the Providence of God to which His
holy and eternal law is not strictly applicable, we maintain that no
circumstances can justify the slave-holder in a continuance of his
That the fact that this system did not originate with the present
generation is no apology for retaining it, inasmuch as crime cannot be
entailed; and no one is under a necessity of sinning because others have
done so before him;
That the domestic slave-trade is as repugnant to the laws of God, and
should be as odious in the eyes of a Christian community, as the foreign;
That the black child born in a slave plantation is not "an entailed
article of property;" and that the white man who makes of that child a
slave is a thief and a robber, stealing the child as the sea pirate stole
We do not talk of gradual abolition, because, as Christians, we find no
authority for advocating a gradual relinquishment of sin. We say to
slaveholders, "Repent now, to-day, immediately;" just as we say to the
intemperate, "Break off from your vice at once; touch not, taste not,
handle not, from henceforth forever."
Besides, the plan of gradual abolition has been tried in this country and
the West Indies, and found wanting. It has been in operation in our
slave states ever since the Declaration of Independence, and its results
are before the nation. Let us see.
The Abolitionists 79
In 1790 there were in the slave states south of the Potomac and the Ohio
20,415 free blacks. Their increase for the ten years following was at
the rate of sixty per cent., their number in 1800 being 32,604. In 1810
there were 58,046, an increase of seventy-five per cent. This
comparatively large increase was, in a great measure, owing to the free
discussions going on in England and in this country on the subject of the
slave-trade and the rights of man. The benevolent impulse extended to
the slave-masters, and manumissions were frequent. But the salutary
impression died away; the hand of oppression closed again upon its
victims; and the increase for the period of twenty years, 1810 to 1830,
was only seventy-seven per cent., about one half of what it was in the
ten years from 1800 to 1810. And this is the practical result of the
much-lauded plan of gradual abolition.
In 1790, in the states above mentioned, there were only 550,604 slaves,
but in 1830 there were 1,874,098! And this, too, is gradual abolition.
"What, then!" perhaps you will ask, "do you expect to overthrow our whole
slave system at once? to turn loose to-day two millions of negroes?"
No, gentlemen; we expect no such thing. Enough for us if in the spirit
of fraternal duty we point to your notice the commands of God; if we urge
you by every cherished remembrance of common sacrifices upon a common
altar, by every consideration of humanity, justice, and expediency, to
begin now, without a moment's delay, to break away from your miserable
system,--to begin the work of moral reformation, as God commands you to
begin, not as selfishness, or worldly policy, or short-sighted political
expediency, may chance to dictate.
Such is our doctrine of immediate emancipation. A doctrine founded on
God's eternal truth, plain, simple, and perfect,--the doctrine of
immediate, unprocrastinated repentance applied to the sin of slavery.
Of this doctrine, and of our plan for crrrying it into effect, I have
given an exposition, with the most earnest regard to the truth. Does
either embrace anything false, fanatical, or unconstitutional? Do they
afford a reasonable protext for your fierce denunciations of your
Northern brethren? Do they furnish occasion for your newspaper chivalry,
your stereotyped demonstrations of Southern magnanimity and Yankee
meanness?--things, let me say, unworthy of Virginians, degrading to
yourselves, insulting to us.
Gentlemen, it is too late for Virginia, with all her lofty intellect and
nobility of feeling, to defend and advocate the principle of slavery.
The death-like silence which for nearly two centuries brooded over her
execrable system has been broken; light is pouring in upon the minds of
her citizens; truth is abroad, "searching out and overturning the lies of
the age." A moral reformation has been already awakened, and it cannot
now be drugged to sleep by the sophistries of detected sin. A thousand
intelligences are at work in her land; a thousand of her noblest hearts
are glowing with the redeeming spirit of that true philanthropy, which is
moving all the world. No, gentlemen; light is spreading from the hills
of Western Virginia to the extremest East. You cannot arrest its
progress. It is searching the consciences; it is exercising the reason;
it is appealing to the noblest characteristics of intelligent Virginians.
It is no foreign influence. From every abandoned plantation where the
profitless fern and thistle have sprung up under the heel of slavery;
from every falling mansion of the master, through whose windows the fox
may look out securely, and over whose hearth-stone the thin grass is
creeping, a warning voice is sinking deeply into all hearts not imbruted
by avarice, indolence, and the lust of power.
Abolitionist as I am, the intellectual character of Virginia has no
warmer admirer than myself. Her great names, her moral trophies, the
glories of her early day, the still proud and living testimonials of her
mental power, I freely acknowledge and strongly appreciate. And, believe
me, it is with no other feelings than those of regret and heartfelt
sorrow that I speak plainly of her great error, her giant crime, a crime
which is visibly calling down upon her the curse of an offended Deity.
But I cannot forget that upon some of the most influential and highly
favored of her sons rests the responsibility at the present time of
sustaining this fearful iniquity. Blind to the signs of the times,
careless of the wishes of thousands of their white fellow-citizens and of
the manifold wrongs of the black man, they have dared to excuse, defend,
nay, eulogize, the black abominations of slavery.
Against the tottering ark of the idol these strong men have placed their
shoulders. That ark must fall; that idol must be cast down; what, then,
will be the fate of their supporters?
When the Convention of 1829 had gathered in its splendid galaxy of
talents the great names of Virginia, the friends of civil liberty turned
their eyes towards it in the earnest hope and confidence that it would
adopt some measures in regard to slavery worthy of the high character of
its members and of the age in which they lived. I need not say how deep
and bitter was our disappointment. Western Virginia indeed spoke on that
occasion, through some of her delegates, the words of truth and humanity.
But their counsels and warnings were unavailing; the majority turned away
to listen to the bewildering eloquence of Leigh and Upshur and Randolph,
as they desecrated their great intellects to the defence of that system
of oppression under which the whole land is groaning. The memorial of
the citizens of Augusta County, bearing the signatures of many slave-
holders, placed the evils of slavery in a strong light before the
convention. Its facts and arguments could only be arbitrarily thrust
aside and wantonly disregarded; they could not be disproved.
"In a political point of view," says the memorial, "we esteem slavery an
evil greater than the aggregate of all the other evils which beset us,
and we are perfectly willing to bear our proportion of the burden of
removing it. We ask, further, What is the evil of any such alarm as our
proposition may excite in minds unnecessarily jealous compared with that
of the fatal catastrophe which ultimately awaits our country, and the
general depravation of manners which slavery has already produced and is
I cannot forbear giving one more extract from this paper. The
memorialists state their belief
"That the labor of slaves is vastly less productive than that of freemen;
that it therefore requires a larger space to furnish subsistence for a
given number of the former than of the latter; that the employment of the
former necessarily excludes that of the latter; that hence our
population, white and black, averages seventeen, when it ought, and would
under other circumstances, average, as in New England, at least sixty to
a square mile; that the possession and management of slaves form a source
of endless vexation and misery in the house, and of waste and ruin on the
farm; that the youth of the country are growing up with a contempt of
steady industry as a low and servile thing, which contempt induces
idleness and all its attendant effeminacy, vice, and worthlessness; that
the waste of the products of the land, nay, of the land itself, is
bringing poverty on all its inhabitants; that this poverty and the
sparseness of population either prevent the institution of schools
throughout the country, or keep them in a most languid and inefficient
condition; and that the same causes most obviously paralyze all our
schemes and efforts for the useful improvement of the country."
Gentlemen, you have only to look around you to know that this picture has
been drawn with the pencil of truth. What has made desolate and sterile
one of the loveliest regions of the whole earth? What mean the signs of
wasteful neglect, of long improvidence around you: the half-finished
mansion already falling into decay, the broken-down enclosures, the weed-
grown garden the slave hut open to the elements, the hillsides galled and
naked, the fields below them run over with brier and fern? Is all this
in the ordinary course of nature? Has man husbanded well the good gifts
of God, and are they nevertheless passing from him, by a process of
deterioration over which he has no control? No, gentlemen. For more
than two centuries the cold and rocky soil of New England has yielded its
annual tribute, and it still lies green and luxuriant beneath the sun of
our brief summer. The nerved and ever-exercised arm of free labor has
changed a landscape wild and savage as the night scenery of Salvator Rosa
into one of pastoral beauty,--the abode of independence and happiness.
Under a similar system of economy and industry, how would Virginia, rich
with Nature's prodigal blessings, have worn at this time over all her
territory the smiles of plenty, the charms of rewarded industry! What a
change would have been manifest in your whole character! Freemen in the
place of slaves, industry, reputable economy, a virtue, dissipation
despised, emigration unnecessary!
[A late Virginia member of Congress described the Virginia slave-
holder as follows: "He is an Eastern Virginian whose good fortune it
has been to have been born wealthy, and to have become a profound
politician at twenty-one without study or labor. This individual,
from birth and habit, is above all labor and exertion. He never
moves a finger for any useful purpose; he lives on the labor of his
slaves, and even this labor he is too proud and indolent to direct
in person. While he is at his ease, a mercenary with a whip in his
hand drives his slaves in the field. Their dinner, consisting of a
few scraps and lean bones, is eaten in the burning sun. They have
no time to go to a shade and be refreshed such easement is reserved
for the horses"!--Speech of Hon. P. P. Doddridge in House of
All this, you will say, comes too late; the curse is upon you, the evil
in the vitals of your state, the desolation widening day by day. No, it
is not too late. There are elements in the Virginian character capable
of meeting the danger, extreme as it is, and turning it aside. Could you
but forget for a time partisan contest and unprofitable political
speculations, you might successfully meet the dangerous exigencies of
your state with those efficient remedies which the spirit of the age
suggests; you might, and that too without pecuniary loss, relinquish your
claims to human beings as slaves, and employ them as free laborers, under
such restraint and supervision as their present degraded condition may
render necessary. In the language of one of your own citizens, "it is
useless for you to attempt to linger on the skirts of the age which is
departed. The action of existing causes and principles is steady and
progressive. It cannot be retarded, unless you would blow out all the
moral lights around you; and if you refuse to keep up with it, you will
be towed in the wake, whether you will or not."--[Speech in Virginia
The late noble example of the eloquent statesman of Roanoke, the
manumission of his slaves, speaks volumes to his political friends. In
the last hour of existence, when his soul was struggling from his broken
tenement, his latest effort was the confirmation of this generous act of
a former period. Light rest the turf upon him beneath his own
patrimonial oaks! The prayers of many hearts made happy by his
benevolence shall linger over his grave and bless it.
Gentlemen, in concluding these letters, let me once more assure you that
I entertain towards you and your political friends none other than kindly
feelings. If I have spoken at all with apparent harshness, it has been
of principles rather than of men. But I deprecate no censure. Conscious
of the honest and patriotic motives which have prompted their avowal, I
cheerfully leave my sentiments to their fate. Despised and contemned as
they may be, I believe they cannot be gainsaid. Sustained by the truth
as it exists in Nature and Revelation, sanctioned by the prevailing
spirit of the age, they are yet destined to work out the political and
moral regeneration of our country. The opposition which they meet with
does not dishearten me. In the lofty confidence of John Milton, I
believe that "though all the winds of doctrine be let loose upon the
earth, so Truth be among them, we need not fear. Let her and Falsehood
grapple; whoever knew her to be put to the worst in a free and open
HAVERHILL, MASS., 29th of 7th Mo., 1833.