HIS121 Industrial Revolution, Cotton Revolution, and Abolitionist Revolution

Background: By the 1820s, the United States was beginning to experience its unique
variant of the global industrial revolutions. Access to abundant natural resources,
technological innovations, and a new set of ideas helped build an emerging industrial
and free market capitalist system. In the Northern states, slavery largely disappeared
under the terms of gradual abolition laws. This led to Northern communities that
worshipped the virtues of “free labor”—that is the natural right of free human beings
to own their labor and enjoy the fruits of (or compensation for) that labor. But without
slavery as a system that created categories of freedom and unfreedom explicitly tied to
racial difference, many white Northern communities struggled with the new realities
of “freedom.”
And by the 1810s, thanks to the growing demand for mass-produced and cheap
cotton, white settlers, land speculators, and slaveowners had been pouring into what
initially was known as the “Cotton Frontier”—a geographic space that included the
Southeastern states and the Mississippi Delta region of the Louisiana territory. An
economic revolution was in the making. Cheap cotton was dramatically raising the
standard of living for tens of millions of Americans and Europeans. In these Southern
states, cotton’s importance to the global economy encouraged a deepening
commitment to and expansion of racial slavery. But the majority of white Southerners
could not afford the cost of purchasing slaves and they largely did not enjoy any of the
enormous wealth produced for cotton planters. For those elite planters who ran
Southern society, there was an emerging concern that poor whites would start to
question the broader premise of a slavery system that limited their economic mobility.
Both North and South, the expansion of popular democracy—namely voting rights for
ordinary white men—enabled an outlet of political (and psychological) power for
ordinary white men who struggled under capitalism and grew anxious about black
freedom’s (albeit, limited) presence.
Coinciding with the industrial revolution and the rise of cotton slavery were
two interconnected social and intellectual transformations that would usher the
movement to attack the very notion of slavery in America. Due in great part to the
chaotic changes and pressures of industrialization, a Second Great Awakening of
evangelical Protestant revivals spread across the country. This Awakening also helped
fuel a broader impulse of “reform” to address the new problems facing the country. In
the Northern states, a new movement of middle-class reformers, moral crusaders, and
evangelical activists hoped to harness the mechanisms of popular democracy to take on
what they saw as the greatest moral crisis facing the nation. Initially, these
abolitionists were largely rejected in mainstream American political culture as fanatics
and radicals who dare challenge the status quo and a system that was integral to
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American capitalism. These abolitionists, however, were emboldened and certain in
the inherent righteousness of their cause—above all else, they saw in cotton slavery a
unique form of human evil, incompatible with their version of a society built on
universal freedom, equality, and inherent human dignity.
On a purely moral level, the new abolitionists were most immediately horrified
by the routine brutalization of enslaved people of color. As cotton raised the standard
of living for ordinary white citizens while producing unprecedented wealth for the
slaveowners, cotton speculators, bankers, and textile mill owners who exploited it, this
new cash crop was also producing unique horror and brutality for the millions of
African American slaves who were compelled to physically cultivate it. Above all else,
cotton slavery was unique as a system of labor, due to its dependency upon the
unrestrained violence against black bodies, which slaveowners saw as mere machines
for production. The following sources reveal the everyday dynamics of cotton slavery,
the radical abolitionists who waged a new political movement against it, and the new
generation of extremist slaveholders who saw in slavery an absolutist right they would
never compromise upon.
1. Alexis De Tocqueville, “Democracy in America: On the State of the Races,”
(1835).
Alexis De Tocqueville was a French writer, historian, and political theorist who arrived
to the U.S. in 1831 to study the American prison system. In the process, Tocqueville
became fascinated by the everyday practices, institutions, and what he saw as the
“culture” of American democracy. He decided to study and analyze this democratic
culture and published his observations as a multivolume work, Democracy in America
(1835). Many contemporary historians consider this book one of, it not the, most
important publications in explaining the nature and social experiences of American
democracy prior to the American Civil War. Among his dizzying array of observations,
Tocqueville spent considerable time trying to make sense of the slavery institution and
its relationship to race in America. The following passages reveal an outsider’s
perception of the place of slavery and race in American democracy, as well as the
relationships between capitalism, ambition, and freedom in a rapidly changing United
States.
On slavery’s racial dynamics and differences between Northern and Southern states:
The Indians will perish in the same isolated condition in which they have lived; but the
destiny of the negroes is in some measure interwoven with that of the Europeans. These
two races are attached to each other without intermingling, and they are alike unable
entirely to separate or to combine. The most formidable of all the ills which threaten the
future existence of the Union arises from the presence of a black population upon its
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territory; and in contemplating the cause of the present embarrassments or of the
future dangers of the United States, the observer is invariably led to consider this as a
primary fact.
The permanent evils to which mankind is subjected are usually produced by the
vehement or the increasing efforts of men; but there is one calamity which penetrated
furtively into the world, and which was at first scarcely distinguishable amidst the
ordinary abuses of power; it originated with an individual whose name history has not
preserved; it was wafted like some accursed germ upon a portion of the soil, but it
afterwards nurtured itself, grew without effort, and spreads naturally with the society to
which it belongs. I need scarcely add that this calamity is slavery. Christianity
suppressed slavery, but the Christians of the sixteenth century re-established it—as an
exception, indeed, to their social system, and restricted to one of the races of mankind;
but the wound thus inflicted upon humanity, though less extensive, was at the same
time rendered far more difficult of cure.
It is important to make an accurate distinction between slavery itself and its
consequences. The immediate evils which are produced by slavery were very nearly the
same in antiquity as they are amongst the moderns; but the consequences of these evils
were different. The slave, amongst the ancients, belonged to the same race as his
master, and he was often the superior of the two in education and instruction. Freedom
was the only distinction between them; and when freedom was conferred they were
easily confounded together. The ancients, then, had a very simple means of avoiding
slavery and its evil consequences, which was that of enfranchisement; and they
succeeded as soon as they adopted this measure generally. Not but, in ancient States,
the vestiges of servitude subsisted for some time after servitude itself was abolished.
There is a natural prejudice which prompts men to despise whomsoever has been their
inferior long after he is become their equal; and the real inequality which is produced by
fortune or by law is always succeeded by an imaginary inequality which is implanted in
the manners of the people. Nevertheless, this secondary consequence of slavery was
limited to a certain term amongst the ancients, for the freedman bore so entire a
resemblance to those born free, that it soon became impossible to distinguish him from
amongst them.
The greatest difficulty in antiquity was that of altering the law; amongst the moderns
it is that of altering the manners; and, as far as we are concerned, the real obstacles
begin where those of the ancients left off. This arises from the circumstance that,
amongst the moderns, the abstract and transient fact of slavery is fatally united to the
physical and permanent fact of color. The tradition of slavery dishonors the race, and
the peculiarity of the race perpetuates the tradition of slavery. No African has ever
voluntarily emigrated to the shores of the New World; whence it must be inferred, that
all the blacks who are now to be found in that hemisphere are either slaves or freedmen.
Thus the negro transmits the eternal mark of his ignominy to all his descendants; and
although the law may abolish slavery, God alone can obliterate the traces of its existence.
The modern slave differs from his master not only in his condition, but in his origin.
You may set the negro free, but you cannot make him otherwise than an alien to the
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European. Nor is this all; we scarcely acknowledge the common features of mankind in
this child of debasement whom slavery has brought amongst us. His physiognomy is to
our eyes hideous, his understanding weak, his tastes low; and we are almost inclined to
look upon him as a being intermediate between man and the brutes. The moderns, then,
after they have abolished slavery, have three prejudices to contend against, which are
less easy to attack and far less easy to conquer than the mere fact of servitude: the
prejudice of the master, the prejudice of the race, and the prejudice of color.
It is difficult for us, who have had the good fortune to be born amongst men like
ourselves by nature, and equal to ourselves by law, to conceive the irreconcilable
differences which separate the negro from the European in America. But we may derive
some faint notion of them from analogy. France was formerly a country in which
numerous distinctions of rank existed, that had been created by the legislation. Nothing
can be more fictitious than a purely legal inferiority; nothing more contrary to the
instinct of mankind than these permanent divisions which had been established
between beings evidently similar. Nevertheless these divisions subsisted for ages; they
still subsist in many places; and on all sides they have left imaginary vestiges, which
time alone can efface. If it be so difficult to root out an inequality which solely originates
in the law, how are those distinctions to be destroyed which seem to be based upon the
immutable laws of Nature herself? When I remember the extreme difficulty with which
aristocratic bodies, of whatever nature they may be, are commingled with the mass of
the people; and the exceeding care which they take to preserve the ideal boundaries of
their caste inviolate, I despair of seeing an aristocracy disappear which is founded upon
visible and indelible signs. Those who hope that the Europeans will ever mix with the
negroes, appear to me to delude themselves; and I am not led to any such conclusion by
my own reason, or by the evidence of facts.
Hitherto, wherever the whites have been the most powerful, they have maintained the
blacks in a subordinate or a servile position; wherever the negroes have been strongest
they have destroyed the whites; such has been the only retribution which has ever taken
place between the two races.
I see that in a certain portion of the territory of the United States at the present day,
the legal barrier which separated the two races is tending to fall away, but not that
which exists in the manners of the country; slavery recedes, but the prejudice to which it
has given birth remains stationary. Whosoever has inhabited the United States must
have perceived that in those parts of the Union in which the negroes are no longer
slaves, they have in no wise drawn nearer to the whites. On the contrary, the prejudice of
the race appears to be stronger in the States which have abolished slavery, than in those
where it still exists; and nowhere is it so intolerant as in those States where servitude
has never been known.
It is true, that in the North of the Union, marriages may be legally contracted between
negroes and whites; but public opinion would stigmatize a man who should connect
himself with a negress as infamous, and it would be difficult to meet with a single
instance of such a union. The electoral franchise has been conferred upon the negroes in
almost all the States in which slavery has been abolished; but if they come forward to
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vote, their lives are in danger. If oppressed, they may bring an action at law, but they will
find none but whites amongst their judges; and although they may legally serve as
jurors, prejudice repulses them from that office. The same schools do not receive the
child of the black and of the European. In the theatres, gold cannot procure a seat for the
servile race beside their former masters; in the hospitals they lie apart; and although
they are allowed to invoke the same Divinity as the whites, it must be at a different altar,
and in their own churches, with their own clergy. The gates of Heaven are not closed
against these unhappy beings; but their inferiority is continued to the very confines of
the other world; when the negro is defunct, his bones are cast aside, and the distinction
of condition prevails even in the equality of death. The negro is free, but he can share
neither the rights, nor the pleasures, nor the labor, nor the afflictions, nor the tomb of
him whose equal he has been declared to be; and he cannot meet him upon fair terms in
life or in death.
In the South, where slavery still exists, the negroes are less carefully kept apart; they
sometimes share the labor and the recreations of the whites; the whites consent to
intermix with them to a certain extent, and although the legislation treats them more
harshly, the habits of the people are more tolerant and compassionate. In the South the
master is not afraid to raise his slave to his own standing, because he knows that he can
in a moment reduce him to the dust at pleasure. In the North the white no longer
distinctly perceives the barrier which separates him from the degraded race, and he
shuns the negro with the more pertinacity, since he fears lest they should some day be
confounded together.
Amongst the Americans of the South, nature sometimes reasserts her rights, and
restores a transient equality between the blacks and the whites; but in the North pride
restrains the most imperious of human passions. The American of the Northern States
would perhaps allow the negress to share his licentious pleasures, if the laws of his
country did not declare that she may aspire to be the legitimate partner of his bed; but
he recoils with horror from her who might become his wife.
Thus it is, in the United States, that the prejudice which repels the negroes seems to
increase in proportion as they are emancipated, and inequality is sanctioned by the
manners whilst it is effaced from the laws of the country. But if the relative position of
the two races which inhabit the United States is such as I have described, it may be
asked why the Americans have abolished slavery in the North of the Union, why they
maintain it in the South, and why they aggravate its hardships there? The answer is
easily given. It is not for the good of the negroes, but for that of the whites, that
measures are taken to abolish slavery in the United States…
A century had scarcely elapsed since the foundation of the colonies, when the
attention of the planters was struck by the extraordinary fact, that the provinces which
were comparatively destitute of slaves, increased in population, in wealth, and in
prosperity more rapidly than those which contained the greatest number of negroes. In
the former, however, the inhabitants were obliged to cultivate the soil themselves, or by
hired laborers; in the latter they were furnished with hands for which they paid no
wages; yet although labor and expenses were on the one side, and ease with economy on
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the other, the former were in possession of the most advantageous system. This
consequence seemed to be the more difficult to explain, since the settlers, who all
belonged to the same European race, had the same habits, the same civilization, the
same laws, and their shades of difference were extremely slight.
Time, however, continued to advance, and the Anglo-Americans, spreading beyond
the coasts of the Atlantic Ocean, penetrated farther and farther into the solitudes of the
West; they met with a new soil and an unwonted climate; the obstacles which opposed
them were of the most various character; their races intermingled, the inhabitants of the
South went up towards the North, those of the North descended to the South; but in the
midst of all these causes, the same result occurred at every step, and in general, the
colonies in which there were no slaves became more populous and more rich than those
in which slavery flourished. The more progress was made, the more was it shown that
slavery, which is so cruel to the slave, is prejudicial to the master.
But this truth was most satisfactorily demonstrated when civilization reached the
banks of the Ohio. The stream which the Indians had distinguished by the name of
Ohio, or Beautiful River, waters one of the most magnificent valleys that has ever been
made the abode of man. Undulating lands extend upon both shores of the Ohio, whose
soil affords inexhaustible treasures to the laborer; on either bank the air is wholesome
and the climate mild, and each of them forms the extreme frontier of a vast State: That
which follows the numerous windings of the Ohio upon the left is called Kentucky, that
upon the right bears the name of the river. These two States only differ in a single
respect; Kentucky has admitted slavery, but the State of Ohio has prohibited the
existence of slaves within its borders.
Thus the traveller who floats down the current of the Ohio to the spot where that river
falls into the Mississippi, may be said to sail between liberty and servitude; and a
transient inspection of the surrounding objects will convince him as to which of the two
is most favorable to mankind. Upon the left bank of the stream the population is rare;
from time to time one descries a troop of slaves loitering in the half-desert fields; the
primaeval forest recurs at every turn; society seems to be asleep, man to be idle, and
nature alone offers a scene of activity and of life. From the right bank, on the contrary, a
confused hum is heard which proclaims the presence of industry; the fields are covered
with abundant harvests, the elegance of the dwellings announces the taste and activity
of the laborer, and man appears to be in the enjoyment of that wealth and contentment
which is the reward of labor…
Upon the left bank of the Ohio labor is confounded with the idea of slavery, upon the
right bank it is identified with that of prosperity and improvement; on the one side it is
degraded, on the other it is honored; on the former territory no white laborers can be
found, for they would be afraid of assimilating themselves to the negroes; on the latter
no one is idle, for the white population extends its activity and its intelligence to every
kind of employment. Thus the men whose task it is to cultivate the rich soil of Kentucky
are ignorant and lukewarm; whilst those who are active and enlightened either do
nothing or pass over into the State of Ohio, where they may work without dishonor.
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It is true that in Kentucky the planters are not obliged to pay wages to the slaves
whom they employ; but they derive small profits from their labor, whilst the wages paid
to free workmen would be returned with interest in the value of their services. The free
workman is paid, but he does his work quicker than the slave, and rapidity of execution
is one of the great elements of economy. The white sells his services, but they are only
purchased at the times at which they may be useful; the black can claim no
remuneration for his toil, but the expense of his maintenance is perpetual; he must be
supported in his old age as well as in the prime of manhood, in his profitless infancy as
well as in the productive years of youth. Payment must equally be made in order to
obtain the services of either class of men: the free workman receives his wages in
money, the slave in education, in food, in care, and in clothing. The money which a
master spends in the maintenance of his slaves goes gradually and in detail, so that it is
scarcely perceived; the salary of the free workman is paid in a round sum, which appears
only to enrich the individual who receives it, but in the end the slave has cost more than
the free servant, and his labor is less productive.
The influence of slavery extends still further; it affects the character of the master,
and imparts a peculiar tendency to his ideas and his tastes. Upon both banks of the
Ohio, the character of the inhabitants is enterprising and energetic; but this vigor is very
differently exercised in the two States. The white inhabitant of Ohio, who is obliged to
subsist by his own exertions, regards temporal prosperity as the principal aim of his
existence; and as the country which he occupies presents inexhaustible resources to his
industry and ever-varying lures to his activity, his acquisitive ardor surpasses the
ordinary limits of human cupidity: he is tormented by the desire of wealth, and he boldly
enters upon every path which fortune opens to him; he becomes a sailor, a pioneer, an
artisan, or a laborer with the same indifference, and he supports, with equal constancy,
the fatigues and the dangers incidental to these various professions; the resources of his
intelligence are astonishing, and his avidity in the pursuit of gain amounts to a species
of heroism.
But the Kentuckian scorns not only labor, but all the undertakings which labor
promotes; as he lives in an idle independence, his tastes are those of an idle man; money
loses a portion of its value in his eyes; he covets wealth much less than pleasure and
excitement; and the energy which his neighbor devotes to gain, turns with him to a
passionate love of hunting, martial combat, and war; he delights in violent bodily
exertion, he is familiar with the use of arms, and is accustomed from a very early age to
expose his life in single combat. Thus slavery not only prevents the whites from
becoming opulent, but even from desiring to become so.
As the same causes have been continually producing opposite effects for the last two
centuries in the British colonies of North America, they have established a very striking
difference between the commercial capacity of the inhabitants of the South and those of
the North. At the present day it is only the Northern States which are in possession of
shipping, manufactures, railroads, and canals. This difference is perceptible not only in
comparing the North with the South, but in comparing the several Southern States.
Almost all the individuals who carry on commercial operations, or who endeavor to turn
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slave labor to account in the most Southern districts of the Union, have emigrated from
the North. The natives of the Northern States are constantly spreading over that portion
of the American territory where they have less to fear from competition; they discover
resources there which escaped the notice of the inhabitants; and, as they comply with a
system which they do not approve, they succeed in turning it to better advantage than
those who first founded and who still maintain it…
On the restless nature of American prosperity:
In certain remote corners of the Old World you may still sometimes stumble upon a
small district which seems to have been forgotten amidst the general tumult, and to
have remained stationary whilst everything around it was in motion. The inhabitants
are for the most part extremely ignorant and poor; they take no part in the business of
the country, and they are frequently oppressed by the government; yet their
countenances are generally placid, and their spirits light. In America I saw the freest
and most enlightened men, placed in the happiest circumstances which the world
affords: it seemed to me as if a cloud habitually hung upon their brow, and I thought
them serious and almost sad even in their pleasures. The chief reason of this contrast is
that the former do not think of the ills they endure—the latter are forever brooding over
advantages they do not possess. It is strange to see with what feverish ardor the
Americans pursue their own welfare; and to watch the vague dread that constantly
torments them lest they should not have chosen the shortest path which may lead to it. A
native of the United States clings to this world’s goods as if he were certain never to die;
and he is so hasty in grasping at all within his reach, that one would suppose he was
constantly afraid of not living long enough to enjoy them. He clutches everything, he
holds nothing fast, but soon loosens his grasp to pursue fresh gratifications.
In the United States a man builds a house to spend his latter years in it, and he sells it
before the roof is on: he plants a garden, and lets it just as the trees are coming into
bearing: he brings a field into tillage, and leaves other men to gather the crops: he
embraces a profession, and gives it up: he settles in a place, which he soon afterwards
leaves, to carry his changeable longings elsewhere. If his private affairs leave him any
leisure, he instantly plunges into the vortex of politics; and if at the end of a year of
unremitting labor he finds he has a few days’ vacation, his eager curiosity whirls him
over the vast extent of the United States, and he will travel fifteen hundred miles in a
few days, to shake off his happiness. Death at length overtakes him, but it is before he is
weary of his bootless chase of that complete felicity which is forever on the wing.
At first sight there is something surprising in this strange unrest of so many happy
men, restless in the midst of abundance. The spectacle itself is however as old as the
world; the novelty is to see a whole people furnish an exemplification of it. Their taste
for physical gratifications must be regarded as the original source of that secret
inquietude which the actions of the Americans betray, and of that inconstancy of which
they afford fresh examples every day. He who has set his heart exclusively upon the
pursuit of worldly welfare is always in a hurry, for he has but a limited time at his
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disposal to reach it, to grasp it, and to enjoy it. The recollection of the brevity of life is a
constant spur to him. Besides the good things which he possesses, he every instant
fancies a thousand others which death will prevent him from trying if he does not try
them soon. This thought fills him with anxiety, fear, and regret, and keeps his mind in
ceaseless trepidation, which leads him perpetually to change his plans and his abode. If
in addition to the taste for physical well-being a social condition be superadded, in
which the laws and customs make no condition permanent, here is a great additional
stimulant to this restlessness of temper. Men will then be seen continually to change
their track, for fear of missing the shortest cut to happiness. It may readily be conceived
that if men, passionately bent upon physical gratifications, desire eagerly, they are also
easily discouraged: as their ultimate object is to enjoy, the means to reach that object
must be prompt and easy, or the trouble of acquiring the gratification would be greater
than the gratification itself. Their prevailing frame of mind then is at once ardent and
relaxed, violent and enervated. Death is often less dreaded than perseverance in
continuous efforts to one end.
The equality of conditions leads by a still straighter road to several of the effects
which I have here described. When all the privileges of birth and fortune are abolished,
when all professions are accessible to all, and a man’s own energies may place him at the
top of any one of them, an easy and unbounded career seems open to his ambition, and
he will readily persuade himself that he is born to no vulgar destinies. But this is an
erroneous notion, which is corrected by daily experience. The same equality which
allows every citizen to conceive these lofty hopes, renders all the citizens less able to
realize them: it circumscribes their powers on every side, whilst it gives freer scope to
their desires. Not only are they themselves powerless, but they are met at every step by
immense obstacles, which they did not at first perceive. They have swept away the
privileges of some of their fellow-creatures which stood in their way, but they have
opened the door to universal competition: the barrier has changed its shape rather than
its position. When men are nearly alike, and all follow the same track, it is very difficult
for any one individual to walk quick and cleave a way through the dense throng which
surrounds and presses him. This constant strife between the propensities springing
from the equality of conditions and the means it supplies to satisfy them, harasses and
wearies the mind.
It is possible to conceive men arrived at a degree of freedom which should completely
content them; they would then enjoy their independence without anxiety and without
impatience. But men will never establish any equality with which they can be contented.
Whatever efforts a people may make, they will never succeed in reducing all the
conditions of society to a perfect level; and even if they unhappily attained that absolute
and complete depression, the inequality of minds would still remain, which, coming
directly from the hand of God, will forever escape the laws of man. However democratic
then the social state and the political constitution of a people may be, it is certain that
every member of the community will always find out several points about him which
command his own position; and we may foresee that his looks will be doggedly fixed in
that direction. When inequality of conditions is the common law of society, the most
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marked inequalities do not strike the eye: when everything is nearly on the same level,
the slightest are marked enough to hurt it. Hence the desire of equality always becomes
more insatiable in proportion as equality is more complete.
Amongst democratic nations men easily attain a certain equality of conditions: they
can never attain the equality they desire. It perpetually retires from before them, yet
without hiding itself from their sight, and in retiring draws them on. At every moment
they think they are about to grasp it; it escapes at every moment from their hold. They
are near enough to see its charms, but too far off to enjoy them; and before they have
fully tasted its delights they die. To these causes must be attributed that strange
melancholy which oftentimes will haunt the inhabitants of democratic countries in the
midst of their abundance, and that disgust at life which sometimes seizes upon them in
the midst of calm and easy circumstances. Complaints are made in France that the
number of suicides increases; in America suicide is rare, but insanity is said to be more
common than anywhere else. These are all different symptoms of the same disease. The
Americans do not put an end to their lives, however disquieted they may be, because
their religion forbids it; and amongst them materialism may be said hardly to exist,
notwithstanding the general passion for physical gratification. The will resists—reason
frequently gives way. In democratic ages enjoyments are more intense than in the ages
of aristocracy, and especially the number of those who partake in them is larger: but, on
the other hand, it must be admitted that man’s hopes and his desires are oftener blasted,
the soul is more stricken and perturbed, and care itself more keen.
2. Harriet Jacobs, “The Risks for a Female Slave,” (1861).
Harriet Jacobs was born enslaved in 1813 in Edenton, North Carolina. She was mixed
race due to a long line of European ancestry on her father’s side, which shaped her
lighter complexion. But under Southern state slave laws, her European ancestry
mattered little as her mother’s slave status was passed on to her. For Jacobs, one of the
most horrific realities of the system was the constant threat and actual instances of
sexual violence perpetuated by masters. By the 1840s, she escaped slavery and took up
residence in Philadelphia as a runaway. There, Jacobs soon became involved in various
abolitionist organizations and a leading voice against the sexual horrors of slavery. Her
autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861), was specifically designed to
target the sexual mores and sensibilities of middle class white Northern women, who
Jacobs saw as critical to pressuring the wider American populace to reject the evils of
slavery.
DURING the first years of my service in Dr. Flint’s family, I was accustomed to share
some indulgences with the children of my mistress. Though this seemed to me no more
than right, I was grateful for it, and tried to merit the kindness by the faithful discharge
of my duties. But I now entered on my fifteenth year–a sad epoch in the life of a slave
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girl. My master began to whisper foul words in my ear. Young as I was, I could not
remain ignorant of their import. I tried to treat them with indifference or contempt.
The master’s age, my extreme youth, and the fear that his conduct would be reported to
my grandmother, made him bear this treatment for many months. He was a crafty man,
and resorted to many means to accomplish his purposes. Sometimes he had stormy,
terrific ways, that made his victims tremble; sometimes he assumed a gentleness that he
thought must surely subdue. Of the two, I preferred his stormy moods, although they
left me trembling. He tried his utmost to corrupt the pure principles my grandmother
had instilled. He peopled my young mind with unclean images, such as only a vile
monster could think of. I turned from him with disgust and hatred. But he was my
master. I was compelled to live under the same roof with him–where I saw a man forty
years my senior daily violating the most sacred commandments of nature. He told me I
was his property; that I must be subject to his will in all things. My soul revolted against
the mean tyranny. But where could I turn for protection? No matter whether the slave
girl be as black as ebony or as fair as her mistress. In either case, there is no shadow of
law to protect her from insult, from violence, or even from death; all these are inflicted
by fiends who bear the shape of men. The mistress, who ought to protect the helpless
victim, has no other feelings towards her but those of jealousy and rage.
The degradation, the wrongs, the vices, that grow out of slavery, are more than I can
describe. They are greater than you would willingly believe. Surely, if you credited one
half the truths that are told you concerning the helpless millions suffering in this cruel
bondage, you at the north would not help to tighten the yoke. You surely would refuse to
do for the master, on your own soil, the mean and cruel work which trained
bloodhounds and the lowest class of whites do for him at the south.
Every where the years bring to all enough of sin and sorrow; but in slavery the very dawn
of life is darkened by these shadows. Even the little child, who is accustomed to wait on
her mistress and her children, will learn, before she is twelve years old, why it is that her
mistress hates such and such a one among the slaves. Perhaps the child’s own mother is
among those hated ones. She listens to violent outbreaks of jealous passion, and cannot
help understanding what is the cause. She will become prematurely knowing in evil
things. Soon she will learn to tremble when she hears her master’s footfall. She will be
compelled to realize that she is no longer a child. If God has bestowed beauty upon her,
it will prove her greatest curse. That which commands admiration in the white woman
only hastens the degradation of the female slave. I know that some are too much
brutalized by slavery to feel the humiliation of their position; but many slaves feel it
most acutely, and shrink from the memory of it. I cannot tell how much I suffered in the
presence of these wrongs, nor how I am still pained by the retrospect. My master met
me at every turn, reminding me that I belonged to him, and swearing by heaven and
earth that he would compel me to submit to him. If I went out for a breath of fresh air,
after a day of unwearied toil, his footsteps dogged me. If I knelt by my mother’s grave,
his dark shadow fell on me even there. The light heart which nature had given me
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became heavy with sad forebodings. The other slaves in my master’s house noticed the
change. Many of them pitied me; but none dared to ask the cause. They had no need to
inquire. They knew too well the guilty practices under that roof, and they were aware
that to speak of them was an offence that never went unpunished.
I longed for some one to confide in. I would have given the world to have laid my head
on my grandmother’s faithful bosom, and told her all my troubles. But Dr. Flint swore he
would kill me, if I was not as silent as the grave. Then, although my grandmother was all
in all to me, I feared her as well as loved her. I had been accustomed to look up to her
with a respect bordering upon awe. I was very young, and felt shamefaced about telling
her such impure things, especially as I knew her to be very strict on such subjects.
Moreover, she was a woman of a high spirit. She was usually very quiet in her demeanor;
but if her indignation was once roused, it was not very easily quelled. I had been told
that she once chased a white gentleman with a loaded pistol, because he insulted one of
her daughters. I dreaded the consequences of a violent outbreak; and both pride and
fear kept me silent. But though I did not confide in my grandmother, and even evaded
her vigilant watchfulness and inquiry, her presence in the neighborhood was some
protection to me. Though she had been a slave, Dr. Flint was afraid of her. He dreaded
her scorching rebukes. Moreover, she was known and patronized by many people; and
he did not wish to have his villainy made public. It was lucky for me that I did not live on
a distant plantation, but in a town not so large that the inhabitants were ignorant of
each other’s affairs. Bad as are the laws and customs in a slaveholding community, the
doctor, as a professional man, deemed it prudent to keep up some outward show of
decency.
O, what days and nights of fear and sorrow that man caused me! Reader, it is not to
awaken sympathy for myself that I am telling you truthfully what I suffered in slavery. I
do it to kindle a flame of compassion in your hearts for my sisters who are still in
bondage, suffering as I once suffered.
I once saw two beautiful children playing together. One was a fair white child; the other
was her slave, and also her sister. When I saw them embracing each other, and heard
their joyous laughter, I turned sadly away from the lovely sight. I foresaw the
inevitable blight that would fall on the little slave’s heart. I knew how soon her laughter
would be changed to sighs. The fair child grew up to be a still fairer woman. From
childhood to womanhood her pathway was blooming with flowers, and overarched by a
sunny sky. Scarcely one day of her life had been clouded when the sun rose on her happy
bridal morning.
How had those years dealt with her slave sister, the little playmate of her childhood? She,
also, was very beautiful; but the flowers and sunshine of love were not for her. She drank
the cup of sin, and shame, and misery, whereof her persecuted race are compelled to
drink.
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In view of these things, why are ye silent, ye free men and women of the north? Why do
your tongues falter in maintenance of the right? Would that I had more ability! But my
heart is so full, and my pen is so weak! There are noble men, and women who plead for
us, striving to help those who cannot help themselves. God bless them! God give them
strength and courage to go on! God bless those, everywhere, who are laboring to
advance the cause of humanity!
3. Lydia Child, “Propositions Defining Slavery and Emancipation,” (1833).
Lydia Maria Child was a Massachusetts-based writer and reformer who advocated on
behalf of some of the most vulnerable members of American society. Along with
writing to encourage new child welfare protections, women’s rights, animal welfare,
and Amerindian land rights, she increasingly set her reformist energies to target
slavery. In many ways, Child, like many Northern female activists, saw slavery as the
worst embodiment of white male patriarchy and capitalist exploitation run amok.
Eradicating slavery would be an important step towards reforming a capitalist system
that ideally should enable free men and women to enjoy their natural right to the fruits
of their labor. In her view, slavery denied that right, thus making it backwards both
morally and economically. Yet as she saw it, eradicating slavery alone would not be
enough to enable African Americans to enjoy true freedom. Struggling to come to
grasp with the “spirit” of slavery would prove to be an equally difficult challenge—a
spirit that nourished American white supremacy both in the South, and in the North.
The following passages from her book An Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans
called Africans (1833) demonstrated both her concerns about the pervasive racism she
saw entrenched in Northern society and the immoral institution of Southern slavery.
On the Northern Prejudices Against People of Color:
WHILE we bestow our earnest disapprobation on the system of slavery, let us not flatter
ourselves that we are in reality any better than our brethren of the South. Thanks to our
soil and climate, and the early exertions of the Quakers, the form of slavery does not
exist among us; but the very spirit of the hateful and mischievous thing is here in all its
strength. The manner in which we use what power we have, gives us ample reason to be
grateful that the nature of our institutions does not intrust us with more. Our prejudice
against colored people is even more inveterate than it is at the South. The planter is
often attached to his negroes, and lavishes caresses and kind words upon them, as he
would on a favorite hound: but our coldhearted, ignoble prejudice admits of no
exception—no intermission.
The Southerners have long continued habit, apparent interest and dreaded
danger, to palliate the wrong they do; but we stand without excuse. They tell us that
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Northern ships and Northern capital have been engaged in this wicked business; and
the reproach is true. Several fortunes in this city have been made by the sale of negro
blood. If these criminal transactions are still carried on, they are done in silence and
secrecy, because public opinion has made them disgraceful. But if the free States wished
to cherish the system of slavery forever, they could not take a more direct course than
they now do. Those who are kind and liberal on all other subjects, unite with the selfish
and the proud in their unrelenting efforts to keep the colored population in the lowest
state of degradation; and the influence they unconsciously exert over children early
infuses into their innocent minds the same strong feelings of contempt.
The intelligent and well informed have the least share of this prejudice; and
when their minds can be brought to reflect upon it, I have generally observed that they
soon cease to have any at all. But such a general apathy prevails and the subject is so
seldom brought into view, that few are really aware how oppressively the influence of
society is made to bear upon this injured class of the community. When I have related
facts, that came under my own observation, I have often been listened to with surprise,
which gradually increased to indignation. In order that my readers may not be ignorant
of the extent of this tyrannical prejudice, I will as briefly as possible state the evidence,
and leave them to judge of it, as their hearts and consciences may dictate.
In the first place, an unjust law exists in this Commonwealth, by which
marriages between persons of different color is pronounced illegal. I am perfectly aware
of the gross ridicule to which I may subject myself by alluding to this particular; but I
have lived too long, and observed too much, to be disturbed by the world’s mockery. In
the first place, the government ought not to be invested with power to control the
affections, any more than the consciences of citizens. A man has at least as good a right
to choose his wife, as he has to choose his religion. His taste may not suit his neighbors;
but so long as his deportment is correct, they have no right to interfere with his
concerns. In the second place, this law is a useless disgrace to Massachusetts. Under
existing cicumstances, none but those whose condition in life is too low to be much
affected by public opinion, will form such alliances; and they, when they choose to do
so, will make such marriages, in spite of the law. I know two or three instances where
women of the laboring class have been united to reputable, industrious colored men.
These husbands regularly bring home their wages, and are kind to their families. If by
some of the odd chances, which not unfrequently occur in the world, their wives should
become heirs to any property, the children may be wronged out of it, because the law
pronounces them illegitimate. And while this injustice exists with regard to honest,
industrious individuals, who are merely guilty of differing from us in a matter of taste,
neither the legislation nor customs of slave-holding States exert their influence
against immoral connexions…
There is among the colored people an increasing desire for information, and a laudable
ambition to be respectable in manners and appearance. Are we not foolish as well as
sinful, in trying to repress a tendency so salutary to themselves, and so beneficial to the
community? Several individuals of this class are very desirous to have persons of their
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own color qualified to teach something more than mere reading and writing. But in the
public schools, colored children are subject to many discouragements and difficulties;
and into the private schools they cannot gain admission…
In a town adjoining Boston, a well-behaved colored boy was kept out of the public school
more than a year, by vote of the trustees. His mother, having some information herself,
knew the importance of knowledge, and was anxious to obtain it for her family. She
wrote repeatedly and urgently; and the school-master himself told me that the
correctness of her spelling, and the neatness of her hand-writing formed a curious
contrast with the notes he received from many white parents. At last, this spirited
woman appeared before the committee, and reminded them that her husband, having
for many years paid taxes as a citizen, had a right to the privileges of a citizen; and if her
claim were refused, or longer postponed, she declared her determination to seek justice
from a higher source. The trustees were, of course, obliged to yield to the equality of the
laws, with the best grace they could. The boy was admitted, and made good progress in
his studies. Had his mother been too ignorant to know her rights, or too abject to
demand them, the lad would have had a fair chance to get a living out of the State as the
occupant of a workhouse, or penitentiary…
Will any candid person tell me why respectable colored people should not be allowed to
make use of public conveyances, open to all who are able and willing to pay for the
privilege? Those who enter a vessel, or a stagecoach, cannot expect to select their
companions. If they can afford to take a carriage or boat for themselves, then, and then
only, they have a right to be exclusive. I was lately talking with a young gentleman on
this subject, who professed to have no prejudice against colored people, except so far as
they were ignorant and vulgar; but still he could not tolerate the idea of allowing them to
enter stages and steam-boats. “Yet, you allow the same privilege to vulgar and ignorant
white men, without a murmur,” I replied; “Pray give a good republican reason why a
respectable colored citizen should be less favored.” For want of a better argument, he
said—(pardon me, fastidious reader)—he implied that the presence of colored persons
was less agreeable than Otto of Rose, or Eau de Cologne; and this distinction, he urged
was made by God himself. I answered, “Whoever takes his chance in a public vehicle, is
liable to meet with uncleanly white passengers, whose breath may be redolent with the
fumes of American cigars, or American gin. Neither of these articles have a fragrance
peculiarly agreeable to nerves of delicate organization. Allowing your argument double
the weight it deserves, it is utter nonsense to pretend that the inconvenience in the case
I have supposed is not infinitely greater. But what is more to the point, do you dine in a
fashionable hotel, do you sail in a fashionable steam-boat, do you sup at a fashionable
house, without having negro servants behind your chair. Would they be any more
disagreeable, as passengers seated in the corner of a stage, or a steam-boat, than
as waiters in such immediate attendance upon your person?”
Stage-drivers are very much perplexed when they attempt to vindicate the
present tyrannical customs; and they usually give up the point, by saying they
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themselves have no prejudice against colored people—they are merely afraid of the
public. But stage-drivers should remember that in a popular government, they, in
common with every other citizen, form a part and portion of the dreaded public.
The gold was never coined for which I would barter my individual freedom of
acting and thinking upon any subject, or knowingly interfere with the rights of the
meanest human being. The only true courage is that which impels us to do right without
regard to consequences. To fear a populace is as servile as to fear an emperor. The only
salutary restraint is the fear of doing wrong…
The state of public feeling not only makes it difficult for the Africans to obtain
information, but it prevents them from making profitable use of what knowledge they
have. A colored man, however intelligent, is not allowed to pursue any business more
lucrative than that of a barber, a shoe-black, or a waiter. These, and all other
employments, are truly respectable, whenever the duties connected with them are
faithfully performed; but it is unjust that a man should, on account of his complexion,
be prevented from performing more elevated uses in society. Every citizen ought to have
a fair chance to try his fortune in any line of business, which he thinks he has ability to
transact. Why should not colored men be employed in the manufactories of various
kinds? If their ignorance is an objection, let them be enlightened, as speedily as possible.
If their moral character is not sufficiently pure, remove the pressure of public scorn, and
thus supply them with motives for being respectable. All this can be done. It merely
requires an earnest wish to overcome a prejudice, which has “grown with our growth
and strengthened with our strength,” but which is in fact opposed to the spirit of our
religion, and contrary to the instinctive good feelings of our nature. When examined by
the clear light of reason, it disappears. Prejudices of all kinds have their strongest holds
in the minds of the vulgar and the ignorant. In a community so enlightened as our own,
they must gradually melt away under the influence of public discussion.
On the Evils of Slavery:
In order to show the true aspect of slavery among us, I will state distinct propositions,
each supported by the evidence of actually existing laws:
1. Slavery is hereditary and perpetual, to the last moment of the slave’s earthly existence,
and to all his descendants, to the latest posterity.
2. The labor of the slave is compulsory and uncompensated; while the kind of labor, the
amount of toil, and the time allowed for rest, are dictated solely by the master. No
bargain is made, no wages given. A pure despotism governs the human brute; and even
his covering and provender, both as to quantity and quality, depend entirely on the
master’s discretion.
3. The slave being considered a personal chattel, may be sold, or pledged, or leased, at
the will of his master. He may be exchanged for marketable commodities, or taken in
execution for the debts, or taxes, either of a living, or a deceased master. Sold at auction,
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“either individually, or in lots, to suit the purchaser,” he may remain with his family, or
be separated from them forever.
4. Slaves can make no contracts, and have no legal right to any property, real or personal.
Their own honest earnings, and the legacies of friends belong, in point of law, to their
masters.
5. Neither a slave, or free colored person can be a witness against any white or free man,
in a court of justice, however atrocious may have been the crimes they have seen him
commit: but they may give testimony against a fellow-slave, or free colored man, even in
cases affecting life.
6. The slave may be punished at his master’s discretion—without trial—without any
means of legal redress,—whether his offence be real, or imaginary; and the master can
transfer the same despotic power to any person, or persons, he may choose to appoint.
7. The slave is not allowed to resist any free man under any circumstances: his only
safety consists in the fact that his owner may bring suit, and recover, the price of his
body, in case his life is taken, or his limbs rendered unfit for labor.
8. Slaves cannot redeem themselves, or obtain a change of masters, though cruel
treatment may have rendered such a change necessary for their personal safety.
9. The slave is entirely unprotected in his domestic relations.
10. The laws greatly obstruct the manumission of slaves, even where the master is
willing to enfranchise them.
11. The operation of the laws tends to deprive slaves of religious instruction and
consolation.
12. The whole power of the laws is exerted to keep slaves in a state of the lowest
ignorance.
13. There is in this country a monstrous inequality of law and right. What is a trifling
fault in the white man, is considered highly criminal in the slave; the same offences
which cost a white man a few dollars only, are punished in the negro with death.
14. The laws operate most oppressively upon free people of color.
Indeed a very brief glance will show that slavery is inconsistent with economy , whether
domestic, or political.
The slave is bought, sometimes at a very high price; in free labor there is no such
investment of capital.—When the slave is ill, a physician must be paid by the owner; the
free laborer defrays his own expenses. The children of the slave must be supported by
his master; the free man maintains his own. The slave is to be taken care of in his old
age, which his previous habits render peculiarly helpless; the free laborer is hired when
he is wanted, and then returns to his home. The slave does not care how slowly or
carelessly he works; it is the free man’s interest to do his business well and quickly. The
slave is indifferent how many tools he spoils; the free man has a motive to be careful.
The slave’s clothing is indeed very cheap, but it is of no consequence to him how fast it is
destroyed—his master must keep him covered, and that is all he is likely to do; the hired
laborer pays more for his garments, but makes them last three times as long. The free
man will be honest for reputation’s sake; but reputation will make the slave none the
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richer, nor invest him with any of the privileges of a human being—while his poverty
and sense of wrong both urge him to steal from his master. A salary must be paid to an
overseer to compel the slave to work; the free man is impelled by the desire of increasing
the comforts of himself and family. Two hired laborers will perform as much work as
three slaves; by some it is supposed to be a more correct estimate that slaves perform
only half as much labor as the same number of free laborers. Finally, where slaves are
employed, manual industry is a degradation to white people, and indolence becomes the
prevailing characteristic.
Slave owners have indeed frequently shown great adroitness in defending this bad
system; but, with few exceptions, they base their arguments upon the necessity of
continuing slavery because it is already begun. Many of them have openly acknowledged
that it was highly injurious to the prosperity of the State…
But to return to the subject of emancipation. Nearly every one of the States north of
Mason and Dixon’s line once held slaves. These slaves were manumitted without
bloodshed, and there was no trouble in making free colored laborers obey the laws.
I am aware that this desirable change must be attended with much more difficulty in the
Southern States, simply because the evil has been suffered until it is fearfully
overgrown; but it must not be forgotten that while they are using their ingenuity and
strength to sustain it for the present, the mischief is increasing more and more rapidly.
If this be not a good time to apply a remedy, when will be a better? They must annihilate
slavery, or slavery will annihilate them.
It seems to be forgotten that emancipation from tyranny is not an emancipation from
law; the negro, after he is made free, is restrained from the commission of crimes by the
same laws which restrain other citizens: if he steals, he will be imprisoned: if he
commits murder, he will be hung.
It will, perhaps, be said that the free people of color in the slave portions of this country
are peculiarly ignorant, idle, and vicious? It may be so; for our laws and our influence
are peculiarly calculated to make them bad members of society. But we trust the civil
power to keep in order the great mass of ignorant and vicious foreigners continually
pouring into the country; and if the laws are strong enough for this, may they not be
trusted to restrain the free blacks?
In those countries where the slave codes are mild, where emancipation is rendered easy,
and inducements are offered to industry, insurrections are not feared, and free people
of color form a valuable portion of the community. If we persist in acting in opposition
to the established laws of nature and reason, how can we expect favorable results? But it
is pronounced unsafe to change our policy. Every progressive improvement in the world
has been resisted by despotism, on the ground that changes were dangerous. The
Emperor of Austria thinks there is need of keeping his subjects ignorant, that good
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order may be preserved. But what he calls good order, is sacrificing the happiness of
many to the advancement of a few; and no doubt knowledge is unfavorable to the
continuation of such a state of things. It is precisely so with the slave holder; he insists
that the welfare of millions must be subordinate to his private interest, or else all good
order is destroyed…
It is commonly urged against emancipation that white men cannot possibly labor under
the sultry climate of our most southerly States. This is a good reason for not sending the
slaves out of the country, but it is no argument against making them free. No doubt we
do need their labor; but we ought to pay for it. Why should their presence be any more
disagreeable as hired laborers, than as slaves? In Boston, we continually meet colored
people in the streets, and employ them in various ways, without being endangered, or
even incommoded. There is no moral impossibility in a perfectly kind and just relation
between the two races.
If white men think otherwise, let them remove from climates which nature has made
too hot for their constitutions. Wealth or pleasure often induces men to change their
abode; an emigration for the sake of humanity would be an agreeable novelty…
But the slave holders try to stop all the efforts of benevolence, by vociferous complaints
about infringing upon their property ; and justice is so subordinate to self-interest, that
the unrighteous claim is silently allowed, and even openly supported, by those who
ought to blush for themselves, as Christians and as republicans. Let men simplify their
arguments—let them confine themselves to one single question, “What right can a man
have to compel his neighbor to toil without reward, and leave the same hopeless
inheritance to his children, in order that he may live in luxury and indolence?” Let the
doctrines of expediency return to the Father of Lies, who invented them, and gave them
power to turn every way for evil. The Christian knows no appeal from the decisions of
God, plainly uttered in his conscience…
The personal liberty of one man can never be the property of another. All ideas of
property are founded upon the mutual agreement of the human race, and are regulated
by such laws as are deemed most conducive to the general good. In slavery there is
no mutual agreement; for in that case it would not be slavery. The negro has no voice in
the matter—no alternative is presented to him—no bargain is made. The beginning of
his bondage is the triumph of power over weakness; its continuation is the tyranny of
knowledge over ignorance. One man may as well claim an exclusive right to the air
another man breathes, as to the possession of his limbs and faculties. Personal freedom
is the birthright of every human being. God himself made it the first great law of
creation; and no human enactment can render it null and void…
Have the negroes no right to ask compensation for their years and years of unrewarded
toil? It is true that they have food and clothing, of such kind, and in such quantities, as
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their masters think proper. But it is evident that this is not the worth of their labor; for
the proprietors can give from one hundred to five and six hundred dollars for a slave,
beside the expense of supporting those who are too old or too young to labor. They could
not afford to do this, if the slave did not earn more than he receives in food and clothing.
If the laws allowed the slave to redeem himself progressively, the owner would receive
his money back again; and the negro’s years of uncompensated toil would be more than
lawful interest.
4. William Lloyd Garrison, “Declarations of Sentiments of the American Anti-
Slavery Society,” (1833).
By far one of the most well-known—if not notorious—radical white abolitionists prior
to the civil war was William Lloyd Garrison. Garrison was a gifted writer and
newspaper publisher, who by the 1820s became active in the budding cause of abolition
due to his religious and reformist sentiments. His radical views of the evils of slavery
and racial equality were further enhanced by his long-term residence in Baltimore
where he witnessed the everyday operations of the internal slave trade. Disgusted by
what he witnessed, Garrison relocated to Boston where he began publishing The
Liberator, one of the most important weekly-running abolitionist newspapers in the
U.S. By 1833, he helped establish the American Anti-Slavery Society, which had the
explicit goal of convincing a majority of Americans of slavery’s moral bankruptcy.
Initially deeply idealistic, Garrison was convinced that slavery could be eradicated
through the democratic process—that the very founding principles of the Republic
were decidedly anti-slavery. But also deeply uncompromising, Garrison tended to lack
the political savvy necessary to translate his ideals into real legislative change. By the
1840s, his belief in American principles as deeply anti-slavery would collapse in the
wake of the American public learning of the founders’ intentions to protect slavery in
the Constitution. By that point, he occasionally called for both disunion and even
violent upheaval to destroy slavery in America.
The Convention assembled in the city of Philadelphia, to organize a National Anti-
Slavery Society, promptly seize the opportunity to promulgate the following Declaration
of Sentiments, as cherished by them in relation to the enslavement of one-sixth portion
of the American people.
More than fifty-seven years have elapsed, since a band of patriots convened in this place,
to devise measures for the deliverance of this country from a foreign yoke. The cornerstone
upon which they founded the Temple of Freedom was broadly this—’that all men
are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights;
that among these are life, LIBERTY, and the pursuit of happiness.’ . . .
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We have met together for the achievement of an enterprise, without which that of our
fathers is incomplete; and which, for its magnitude, solemnity, and probable results
upon the destiny of the world, as far transcends theirs as moral truth does physical
force…
Their principles led them to wage war against their oppressors, and to spill human blood
like water, in order to be free. Ours forbid the doing of evil that good may come, and
lead us to reject, and to entreat the oppressed to reject, the use of all carnal weapons for
deliverance from bondage; relying solely upon those which are spiritual, and mighty
through God to the pulling down of strong holds.
Their measures were physical resistance—the marshalling in arms—the hostile array—
the mortal encounter. Ours shall be such only as the opposition of moral purity to moral
corruption—the destruction of error by the potency of truth—the overthrow of
prejudice by the power of love—and the abolition of slavery by the spirit of repentance.
Their grievances, great as they were, were trifling in comparison with the wrongs and
sufferings of those for whom we plead. Our fathers were never slaves—never bought
and sold like cattle—never shut out from the light of knowledge and religion—never
subjected to the lash of brutal taskmasters.
But those, for whose emancipation we are striving—constituting at the present time at
least one-sixth part of our countrymen—are recognized by law, and treated by their
fellow-beings, as marketable commodities, as goods and chattels, as brute beasts; . . . For
the crime of having a dark complexion, they suffer the pangs of hunger, the infliction of
stripes, the ignominy of brutal servitude. They are kept in heathenish darkness by laws
expressly enacted to make their instruction a criminal offence.
These are the prominent circumstances in the condition of more than two millions of
our people, the proof of which may be found in thousands of indisputable facts, and in
the laws of the slave-holding States.
Hence we maintain—that, in view of the civil and religious privileges of this nation, the
guilt of its oppression is unequalled by any other on the face of the earth; and, therefore,
that it is bound to repent instantly, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed
go free.
We further maintain—that no man has a right to enslave or imbrute his brother—to
hold or acknowledge him, for one moment, as a piece of merchandize—to keep back his
hire by fraud—or to brutalize his mind, by denying him the means of intellectual, social
and moral improvement.
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The right to enjoy liberty is inalienable. To invade it is to usurp the prerogative of
Jehovah. Every man has a right to his own body—to the products of his own labor—to
the protection of law—and to the common advantages of society. It is piracy to buy or
steal a native African, and subject him to servitude. Surely, the sin is as great to enslave
an American as an African.
Therefore we believe and affirm—that there is no difference, in principle, between the
African slave trade and American slavery:
That every American citizen, who detains a human being in involuntary bondage as his
property, is, according to Scripture, (Ex. xxi. 16,) a man-stealer:
That the slaves ought instantly to be set free, and brought under the protection of law:
That if they had lived from the time of Pharaoh down to the present period, and had
been entailed through successive generations, their right to be free could never have
been alienated, but their claims would have constantly risen in solemnity:
That all those laws which are now in force, admitting the right of slavery, are therefore,
before God, utterly null and void; being an audacious usurpation of the Divine
prerogative, a daring infringement on the law of nature, a base overthrow of the very
foundations of the social compact, a complete extinction of all the relations,
endearments and obligations of mankind, and a presumptuous transgression of all the
holy commandments; and that therefore they ought instantly to be abrogated.
We further believe and affirm—that all persons of color, who possess the qualifications
which are demanded of others, ought to be admitted forthwith to the enjoyment of the
same privileges, and the exercise of the same prerogatives, as others; and that the paths
of preferment, of wealth, and of intelligence, should be opened as widely to them as to
persons of a white complexion.
We maintain that no compensation should be given to the planters emancipating their
slaves:
Because it would be a surrender of the great fundamental principle, that man cannot
hold property in man:
Because slavery is a crime, and therefore is not an article to be sold:
Because the holders of slaves are not the just proprietors of what they claim; freeing the
slave is not depriving them of property, but restoring it to its rightful owner; it is not
wronging the master, but righting the slave—restoring him to himself:
23
Because immediate and general emancipation would only destroy nominal, not real
property; it would not amputate a limb or break a bone of the slaves, but by infusing
motives into their breasts, would make them doubly valuable to the masters as free
laborers; and Because, if compensation is to be given at all, it should be given to the
outraged and guiltless slaves, and not to those who have plundered and abused them.
We regard as delusive, cruel and dangerous, any scheme of expatriation which pretends
to aid, either directly or indirectly, in the emancipation of the slaves, or to be a
substitute for the immediate and total abolition of slavery.
We fully and unanimously recognise the sovereignty of each State, to legislate
exclusively on the subject of the slavery which is tolerated within its limits; we concede
that Congress, under the present national compact, has no right to interfere with any of
the slave States, in relation to this momentous subject:
But we maintain that Congress has a right, and is solemnly bound, to suppress the
domestic slave trade between the several States, and to abolish slavery in those portions
of our territory which the Constitution has placed under its exclusive jurisdiction.
We also maintain that there are, at the present time, the highest obligations resting
upon the people of the free States to remove slavery by moral and political action, as
prescribed in the Constitution of the United States. They are now living under a pledge
of their tremendous physical force, to fasten the galling fetters of tyranny upon the
limbs of millions in the Southern States; they are liable to be called at any moment to
suppress a general insurrection of the slaves; they authorize the slave owner to vote for
three-fifths of his slaves as property, and thus enable him to perpetuate his oppression;
they support a standing army at the South for its protection; and they seize the slave,
who has escaped into their territories, and send him back to be tortured by an enraged
master or a brutal driver. This relation to slavery is criminal, and full of danger: IT
MUST BE BROKEN UP…
We shall organize Anti-Slavery Societies, if possible, in every city, town and village in
our land. We shall send forth agents to lift up the voice of remonstrance, of warning, of
entreaty, and of rebuke. We shall circulate, unsparingly and extensively, antislavery
tracts and periodicals. We shall enlist the pulpit and the press in the cause of the
suffering and the dumb. We shall aim at a purification of the churches from all
participation in the guilt of slavery.
We shall encourage the labor of freemen rather than that of slaves, by giving a
preference to their productions: and We shall spare no exertions nor means to bring the
whole nation to speedy repentance. Our trust for victory is solely in God. We may be
personally defeated, but our principles never. Truth, Justice, Reason, Humanity, must
and will gloriously triumph…
24
5. William Drayton, “The South Vindicated from the Treason and Fanaticism of
the Northern Abolitionists,” (1836).
With some exceptions, slaveholders during the Revolutionary Era largely argued that
slavery was an unfortunate, but prudent institution, shielding the new Republic from
social disorder. Cotton slavery and all of the wealth it produced destroyed that
sentiment. By the 1820s and 1830s, a new generation of Southern slaveholders saw their
institution as a positive good for the nation and felt besieged by the new movement of
abolitionists who relentlessly attacked the slaveholders’ institution, their morality, and
their very character. While abolitionists saw themselves as engaged in a struggle to
convince white America of the evils of slavery, slaveholders embraced a reactionary
politics to counter abolitionists’ arguments. By the 1830s, wealthy Southern
slaveholders began funding institutions and publications that would defend their
institution—before both Southern and Northern audiences. These defenses were
further enhanced by the work of Southern politicians to resist abolitionist petitions
and maintain the legal protections of slavery. The following excerpt was drafted by a
Floridian slaveowner named William Drayton and published by a prominent
Philadelphia publisher, H. Manly. As this typical pro-slavery defense shows,
slaveowners took great pains to argue that slavery was not evil. Instead, men like
Drayton argued that abolitionist extremists peddling in the dangerous notion of black
freedom represented the only genuine evil in 1830s America.
The states in which slavery prevails, have been distinguished for their affluence.
Notwithstanding the policy of the national government has borne heavily upon the
South, notwithstanding the occasional depression of her staples, and the proverbially
unfortunate pecuniary habits of her citizens, that portion of the union may still be
regarded as peculiarly favoured. The slave-labour of the South has thus far practically
disproved the theories of the North; and demonstrated that the institution of slavery,
whatever objections may be alleged against it, is not calculated to diminish the national
wealth, or retard the national prosperity. It will be seen hereafter, that the South pays
nearly one-third of the revenue of the government; and of the one hundred millions of
dollars annual exports sent from the country, nine-tenths are raised by the South. Of the
productiveness of slave-labour, who can, after a knowledge of these facts, affect a doubt?
The North, as well as the South, is enriched by that labour; and should any disastrous
occurrences disturb the institutions of the South, not only the whites and negroes of the
slave-holding states would sink into poverty and suffering, but the decayed
manufactures, shrunken commerce, and ruined prosperity of the North, would show
how near and vital is the connexon of the different sections of our common country.
Every country must have its labourers, men who are willing to be directed by the mind
and capital of others, and to undergo, in consideration of support, the physical toil
requisite for the attainment of the goods of life. In the North, this labour is
25
done by the poor; in the South, by the negro. In both, the labourer is forced to endure the
privations of his condition in life. In the North, not only is his toil severe, but poverty
and anxiety attend him in his humble path in life. His family must be sustained; his wife
attended in sickness; his children supported in youth. His means are often inadequate
to his wants. He is bowed down by the consciousness of inequality, and haunted by the
fear of the prison. Incertitude and anxiety are with him each hour of his life; and when
sickness or age steals upon him, it often finds him without resources or hope. Thus is he
dogged through life by poverty, fear, humiliation and oppression (for the title of
freeman does not protect the poor from oppression) and dies with the unhappy
consciousness that for his children is reserved the same lot of wretchedness. The
labourer of the South knows none of these evils. He is scarcely acquainted with the
meaning of the word care. He never suffers from inordinate labour — he never sickens
from unwholesome food. No fear of want disturbs his slumbers. Hunger and cold are
strangers to him; and in sickness or age he knows that he has a protector and a friend
able and willing; to shield him from suffering: His pleasures are such as his nature
enjoys, and are unrestricted. He enjoys all the privileges which his simple heart craves,
and which are wholesome for him. Thus protected from all the other has to fear, and
secured in the enjoyment of all he desires — he is as happy as circumstances can render
him.
We are aware that certain pseudo philanthropists affect great concern for the benighted
state of the negro, and condemn the enactments which, in some of the states,
discourage his education. We may be permitted to remark, that, but for the intrusive
and intriguing interference of pragmatical fanatics, such precautionary enactments
would never have been necessary. When such foes are abroad, industrious in scattering
the seeds of insurrection, it becomes necessary to close every avenue by which they may
operate upon the slaves. It becomes necessary to check or turn aside the stream, which
instead of flowing healthfully upon the negro, is polluted and poisoned by the
abolitionists, and rendered the source of discontent and excitement. Education, thus
perverted, would become equally dangerous to the master and the slave: and while
fanaticism continue, its war upon the South, the measures of necessary precaution and
defence must be continued.
The situation of the slave is, in every particular, incompatible with the cultivation of his
mind. It would not only unfit him for his station in life, and prepare him for
insurrection, but would be found wholly impracticable in the performance of the duties
of a labourer…
The slaves of the South are protected from abuse or wrong by liberal laws, justly
administered. Improper punishment, under-feeding or over-working, are prevented by
enactments, which, should any master incur their penalties, effectually vindicate the
cause of justice. The laws protect the slave as fully as the white man: they go further,
and, as the slave is supposed to be completely dependent upon his master, they require
26
that he should be supplied with the necessaries and comforts of his station, and treated
with unvarying kindness. In some of the states it has, indeed, been necessary to pass
rigid police laws to protect the country from insurrections; but these laws remain a dead
letter, until the interference of insidious and evil men excites and stirs up the slaves, and
renders caution and severity indispensable for the safety of the master. When
abolitionists make the application of these laws necessary, it is they, and they alone, who
are the authors of the restraint placed upon the slaves…
It should be distinctly understood, that while the South acknowledges no accountability
to any power under heaven for her course or sentiments on the subject of slavery, she
freely avows her conviction of her right to hold the negroes in bondage, and her
persuasion that the domestic slavery of that section of our country, is not a moral or
political evil. These sentiments are the result of a full and general investigation of the
subject: and were the people of the North equally well acquainted with it, they would
probably subscribe to the opinions of the South. The original importation of the African
is regarded by us as a moral wrong, because associated with acts of violence and cruelty,
which nothing can justify but of the justice, necessity, and advantages of the institution,
as now entailed upon the South, we cannot, after an examination of the subject, feel a
doubt. To the negro himself, we consider it no calamity. He is happier here than on the
shores of his own degraded, savage, and most unhappy country — or rather the country
of his fathers. He is happier, also, as a slave, than he could be as a freeman…
The abolitionists deny the right of the people of the South, under any circumstances, to
hold their fellow men in bondage. Upon what grounds is this position assumed?… It is
their duty to prove that an institution, which has existed almost from the creation of the
world to the present time, which has been encouraged by the best men of the most
enlightened ages, and which has met the sanction of the Highest — has become, since
these moral luminaries arose upon the world, guilty and calamitous. It will be found
difficult to obtain a direct and rational answer to so plain a demand. They deal wholly in
rhetorical flourishes; and if they reply at all, will tell us that the negro slave should not be
a slave, because ” he was created free.” The fact is exactly the reverse. He comes into the
world a slave. Nay, we might go further, anal assert that nature, in her earliest
developments, exhibits the necessity of reciprocal command and protection. We are all,
in early life, slaves; the laws of necessity and nature, as well as those of the land,
constitute us bond, and we remain so until we have passed through nearly one-third of
our earthly pilgrimage. Who, then, will pretend to assert that the negro should not be a
slave because he is born free? But they tell us — “it is the will of God that he should be
free.” It is somewhat strange, that the will of God, in this point, has never been
expressed until it came from the oracular mouths of the abolitionists. Such
manifestations of the divine will never took place among the Jews, where slavery was
universal, nor among the nations to which the disciples of our Saviour preached —
nations which were overrun with slaves. The will and desire of God is the welfare of the
27
species. If negro slavery in the South be inconsistent with the happiness of the human
family, the argument may apply: but if, as we confidently assert, its existence is not at
war with the well-being of the greatest number of those interested, it is wholly
justifiable. And if, to go one step further, the measures of abolition, projected by the
fanatics, are calculated to result in consequences calamitous to the race, they are,
notwithstanding their ostentatious and obtrusive piety, guilty, in the face of heaven and
earth, of crimes of the darkest and deepest crimson.
The phrase which occurs in the Declaration of American Independence — “all men are
created free and equal” — is perpetually upon the lips of the abolitionist, to sanction his
violation of the rights of the South. The following extract from a speech, delivered
at the late public meeting in Philadelphia, by Mr. J. R. Burden, formerly Speaker of
the Senate, and an early, fervent, and fearless advocate of the rights of the slave-holder,
admirably illustrates the perversion and desecration of that celebrated sentence of
Jefferson.
“On the 4th of July, 1776, in the immediate neighbourhood of this place, the Declaration
of Independence was made. From it the advocates of black emancipation take their text,
‘All men are created free and equal,’ &c. The construction they put upon it is unlimited.
Let us examine the subject carefully. Did the framers of the Declaration, the
representatives of the people, intend to declare that domestic slavery was incompatible
with the freedom of the colonies? If they did not, their words are of no use in the defence
of negro emancipation. If they did, why were not all the slaves then emancipated?
“The people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union and secure the
blessings of liberty, established the constitution in 1787. Domestic slavery still existed.
No constitution could have been formed, had emancipation been persisted in. No union
could have been perfected, if theorists and dreamers had determined to deprive the
slaveholding states of their property.
“The constitution was adopted; the union was established; the world looked on it with
admiration; yet it did not prohibit domestic slavery. So far from it, one of its main
features, that of representation, was based upon it. Further, it declared that the traffic
should not be prohibited by Congress prior to the year 1808. Perhaps the framers of the
constitution thought that, by that period, the increased population of the blacks, would
supersede the necessity of importation.
“We hear, in our day, much prating about liberty and philanthropy. The signers of the
Declaration of Independence, and the framers of the constitution, were quite as
conversant with the rights of man, as the best of us; they had as much philanthropy;
and, if you will have it, as much Christianity as we profess to have. They possessed the
confidence of the people, and deserved it; they passed through the times that tried
men’s souls; and, without the fear, favour, or affection of power, but in the spirit of
28
virtue, wisdom, and patriotism, perfected a union as imperishable as the globe we
inhabit. Shall it be said that such men put a blot and a stain upon our country ? — So
much for the text of emancipation !”…
At the period of the advent of Christ, slavery prevailed throughout the world. In that
portion of Asia, in which Christianity was first preached, it existed in its severest form,
and to a very great extent. Had it been regarded as an evil, it could not have escaped the
animadversion, not only of Christ, but of all the holy men who became, at his departure,
the preachers of his faith. A subject so nearly connected with the happiness of the mass
of mankind, could not have escaped, and did not escape, their attention: and, had it not
possessed their approbation, must have been condemned. Instead of this, however, we
find the institution sanctioned, slaveholders admitted into the bosom of the church, and
slaves admonished to humility and obedience…
[The abolitionists’] application of the “golden rule,” strips it of its golden attributes, and
makes it sanction all that it was intended to condemn. They insist that the maxim, as
interpreted by them, requires that the authority of the master over the slave should be
immediately relinquished. We may add that, it requires further, that the authority of the
father over his child, of the master over his apprentice, of the tutor over his pupil, should
also be given up. It requires that the ruler should not control the private citizen; that the
judge should not sentence the convict, nor the jailor confine the thief. Neither the child,
servant, nor scholar — the citizen, convict, nor thief are dealt with according to their
desires; nor as those, in whose power they are placed, would desire, if their relative
position were reversed. That rule which would require that their wishes should be
regarded as rights, and conceded accordingly, would abrogate all law, would place the
innocent at the mercy of the guilty, involve right and wrong in indistinguishable
confusion, and render society a chaotic and jarring mass of wretchedness and crime…
It will be admitted, that one of the first and most essential requisites in the formation of
republican character is intelligence. Without that, patriotism is blind and inefficient.
Without it, a virtuous people may be readily deceived and betrayed, and lose their
freedom before they dream that it is in peril. The slave-holder has, in this particular, the
inestimable advantage of leisure. Relieved from the labour required for actual support,
he is enabled to direct his attention to public affairs; to investigate political subjects, and
exercise his privileges understandingly. This result has been fully attained at the south.
In no population in the world is the same time devoted to political investigations; and
nowhere are the rights of man so fully canvassed and understood by the mass of the
citizens.
While we acknowledge that some of the noblest spirits which our race has boasted have
been linked, through life, with poverty, and while we are proud to be enabled to boast
that in no country are the poor more pure and virtuous than in our own, yet we must
also admit that poverty has its temptations.
29
Men who enter into politics, as do many in the north, for the purpose of making money,
are but dangerous agents. The public council, which is constituted of men who from
situation and character are accessible to pecuniary temptation, is but a frail barrier
against the designs of the ambitious. In most cases it becomes not merely treacherous in
its inactivity, but active in its treason — the pliant and efficient engine of power. The
institution of slavery, by forming the character of the citizen on a more elevated
standard, by lifting him above the necessities and temptations of poverty, secures, to the
councils of the country, men for whom, to repeat the words of Ferguson, ” danger has no
terror, interest no means to corrupt.”
There is one result which has been accomplished by slavery, and which no other cause
has hitherto completely effected — it has introduced a complete equality among the
whites. Professor Dew thus describes the difference which prevails in the north
and south in this particular. “The menial and low offices being all performed by the
blacks, there is at once taken away the greatest cause of distinction and separation of
the ranks of society. The man at the north will not shake hands familiarly with his
servant, and converse and laugh, and dine with him, no matter how honest and
respectable he may be. But go to the south, and you will find that no white man feels
such inferiority of rank as to be unworthy of association with those around him. Colour
alone is here the badge of distinction, the true mark of aristocracy, and all who are white
are equal in spite of variety of occupation.”…
The abolitionists, as another auxiliary in the attainment of their ends, have succeeded in
enlisting female societies in their support. They sew for the cause; collect money for it;
and render it all the aid which extraordinary zeal, combined with activity and leisure,
can yield. When the most profound intellects in our country regard this exciting and
momentous subject with awe, we cannot, without regret, see ladies rushing boldly into
it. They forget that it is a political subject of the most important character: and, easily
led away by the religious appeals of the abolitionists and the gentle and generous, but in
this case misguided, promptings of their own nature, they unreflectingly lend their aid
to designs, the tendency and consequence of which they are incapable of
understanding. Politics is not the sphere in which the sex is either useful or honored;
and their interference with subjects of this character, if sufficiently important to have
any influence, must have an evil one. It is peculiarly to be regretted, that the false
eloquence of the abolition preachers could ever have attained such influence over them,
as to render them forgetful of the situation of their fair and gentle sisters of the South.
Have they studied the history of St. Domingo [Haiti]; and are they prepared to let loose
upon the refined and innocent ladies of the South, the savage negro, incapable of
restraint, and wild with ungovernable passions? Are they aware of the present
apprehensions of the females of the slave-holding states; and are they willing to add
another to the fears that now haunt their pillows? It is impossible that fanaticism can so
far have perverted their sympathies, or steeled the holier charities of their nature. The
30
possibility of insurrection and the negroes’ saturnalia of blood and lust, should appall
every female bosom, and deter them from a scheme of benevolence so dubious in its
character, and so fearful in its consequences…
If the scheme of emancipation were entitled to our approbation and support, the
manner in which it is urged, would be sufficient to excite just and general suspicion and
alarm. A political cause that comes before the people, sustained on the one side by
English influence, and on the other by an aspiring priesthood — may well be regarded,
by republicans, with distrust and terror.
It is not difficult to divine the motives which induce Great Britain to encourage the
incendiary efforts of the abolitionists. They are the same, which heretofore, at different
periods, in our history, prompted the same nation to endeavour to distract
and destroy our Union, and excite the slaves of the South against their masters. Like
their own wreckers, they are anxious to decoy our vessel upon the rocks, that they may
be enriched by the spoil of the wreck. Our ruined commerce and manufactures, would
afford Great Britain a new and boundless source of affluence; while the destruction of a
former foe and a present rival, would be regarded with feelings of malicious
satisfaction. Many of her people also regard the example of republicanism in this
country, as dangerous to the existing institutions of Europe, and would rejoice to see
the fabric of our Union torn to pieces, and our land bleeding and groaning beneath the
parricidal arms of her own infuriated children.
Such, we have every reason to believe, are the motives that have induced England to
send her emissaries into this country, to aid the incendiary schemes of the
emancipationists, to volunteer and contribute pecuniary support, in forwarding the
same cause; and in short, to exercise every means in her power, to excite division and
insurrection, and consummate the infamy of our people, and the downfall of our
country. It is true, that she avows only motives of philanthropy. But why is that
philanthropy directed hither? Why does it not turn to their brethren, the oppressed and
starving people of Ireland, whose condition is so much worse than that of our slaves?
Why does it overlook the perishing thousands, in the manufactories in England? Why is
it not turned to the almost countless millions of slaves who groan beneath English
tyranny in India? Or, if their own brethren, or their own victims are beneath their
notice, why have not the oppressed of their neighbouring kingdoms of Europe — the
serfs of Russia and Poland, the slaves of Turkey, and the down-trodden of other lands —
claimed their attention? England has not, hitherto, exhibited such peculiar interest in
our welfare; and this sudden and singular anxiety cannot, under the circumstances, but
excite suspicion and terror. It remains to be seen, whether British money will be allowed
openly to circulate, in maintaining an opposition to our Union and our Constitution;
and whether English emissaries will be permitted to go from state to state, preaching
treason against those sacred rights, which were wrested from English tyranny, and
established at the price of hundreds of thousands of American lives.
31
6. George Fitzhugh, “Failure of Free Society,” (1854).
By far, one of the most peculiar and extreme defenders of slavery in the years leading
up to civil war was George Fitzhugh of Virginia. A practicing lawyer and avid reader,
Fitzhugh drew his intellectual and ideological inspirations from many sources,
including the French philosopher and advocate for “utopian socialism,” Charles
Fourier. Unlike most defenders of slavery, Fitzhugh was convinced that free market
capitalism and free trade were unnatural economic systems and that slavery offered a
rational system for ordering societies. Although most white Southerners—and
especially the slavocracy—fashioned themselves capitalists, Fitzhugh’s utopian
theories of an enlightened Southern society and racial order were deeply appealing.
Above all else, Fitzhugh sought to defend Southern slavery, but also attack the very
intellectual foundations of classical liberalism—economic and political liberty—that
had shaped the United States. As he argued, liberty itself was a dangerous mechanism
for organizing any society. In his view, slavery was the natural state of humankind. In
his most infamous and widely-read book, Sociology for the South (1854), Fitzhugh
argued that the Southern states had made the bold choice to enslave an “inferior” race
with the goal of building a more fair, utopian, and socialist society. The following are
excerpts from that book.
On the Failures of Free Societies
We dedicate this little work to you, because it is a zealous and honest effort to promote
your peculiar interests. Society has been so quiet and contented in the South – it has
suffered so little from crime or extreme poverty, that its attention has not been
awakened to the revolutionary tumults, uproar, mendacity and crime of free society.
Few are aware of the blessings they enjoy, or of the evils from which they are exempt.
From some peculiarity of taste, we have for many years been watching closely the
perturbed workings of free society. Its crimes, its revolutions, its sufferings and its
beggary, have led us to investigate its past history, as well as to speculate on its future
destiny. This pamphlet has been hastily written, but is the result of long observation,
some research and much reflection…
On all subjects of social science, Southern men, from their position, possess peculiar
advantages when they undertake discussion. History, past
and cotemporaneous, informs them of all the phenomena of other forms of society, and
they see every day around them the peculiarities and characteristics of slave society, of
which little is to be learned from books. The ancients took it for granted that slavery was
right, and never attempted to justify it. The moderns assume that it is wrong, and
forthwith proceed to denounce it. The South can lose nothing, and may gain, by the
discussion. She has, up to this time, been condemned without a hearing.
32
Adam Smith’s philosophy is simple and comprehensive. Its leading and almost its only
doctrine is, that individual well-being and social and national wealth and prosperity will
be best promoted by each man’s eagerly pursuing his own selfish welfare unfettered and
unrestricted by legal regulations, or governmental prohibitions, farther than such
regulations may be necessary to prevent positive crime. That some qualifications of this
doctrine will not be found in his book, we shall not deny; but this is his system. It is
obvious enough that such a governmental policy as this doctrine would result in, would
stimulate energy, excite invention and industry, and bring into livelier action, genius,
skill and talent…
Trade is a war of the wits, in which the stronger witted are as sure to succeed as the
stronger armed in a war with swords. Strength of wit has this great advantage over
strength of arm, that it never tires, for it gathers new strength by appropriating to itself
the spoils of the vanquished. And thus, whether between nations or individuals, the war
of free trade is constantly widening the relative abilities of the weak and the strong. It
has been justly observed that under this system the rich are continually growing richer
and the poor poorer. The remark is true as well between nations as between
individuals…
Political independence is not worth a fig without commercial independence. The tribute
which the centers of trade, of capital, and of mechanical and artistic skill, such as
England and the North exact from the nations they trade with, is more onerous and
more destructive of civilization than that exacted from conquered provinces. Its effects
everywhere are too obvious to need the citation of proofs and instances. Social
centralization arises from the laissez-faire system [free market with limited government
interference] just as national centralization. A few individuals possessed of capital and
cunning acquire a power to employ the laboring class on such terms as they please, and
they seldom fail to use that power. Hence, the numbers and destitution of the poor in
free society are daily increasing, the numbers of the middle or independent class
diminishing, and the few rich men growing hourly richer…
How slavery could degrade men lower than universal liberty has done, it is hard to
conceive; how it did and would again preserve them from such degradation, is well
explained by those who are loudest in its abuse. A consciousness of security, a full
comprehension of his position, and a confidence in that position, and the absence of all
corroding cares and anxieties, makes the slave easy and self-assured in his address,
cheerful, happy and contented, free from jealousy, malignity, and envy, and at peace
with all around him. His attachment to his master begets the sentiment of loyalty, than
which none more purifies and elevates human nature…
The free laborer rarely has a house and home of his own; he is insecure of employment;
sickness may overtake him at any time and deprive him of the means of support; old age
33
is certain to overtake him, if he lives, and generally finds him without the means of
subsistence; his family is probably increasing in numbers, and is helpless and
burdensome to him. In all this there is little to incite to virtue, much to tempt to crime,
nothing to afford happiness, but quite enough to inflict misery. Man must be more than
human, to acquire a pure and a high morality under such circumstances.
In free society the sentiments, principles; feelings and affections of high and low, rich
and poor, are equally blunted and debased by the continual war of competition. It begets
rivalries, jealousies and hatreds on all hands. The poor can neither love nor respect the
rich, who, instead of aiding and protecting them, are endeavoring to cheapen their labor
and take away their means of subsistence. The rich can hardly respect themselves, when
they reflect that wealth is the result of avarice, caution, circumspection and hard
dealing. These are the virtues which free society in its regular operation brings forth. Its
moral influence is therefore no better on the rich than on the poor. The number of
laborers being excessive in all old countries, they are continually struggling with,
scandalizing and underbidding each other, to get places and employment. Every
circumstance in the poor man’s situation in free society is one of harassing care, of
grievous temptation, and of excitement to anger, envy, jealousy and malignity. That so
many of the poor should nevertheless be good and pure, kind, happy and high-minded,
is proof enough that the poor class is not the worst class in society. But the rich have
their temptations, too. Capital gives them the power to oppress; selfishness offers the
inducement, and political economy, the moral guide of the day, would justify the
oppression. Yet there are thousands of noble and generous and disinterested men in
free society, who employ their wealth to relieve, and not to oppress the poor. Still these
are exceptions to the general rule. The effect of such society is to encourage the
oppression of the poor.
The ink was hardly dry with which Adam Smith wrote his Wealth of Nations, lauding
the benign influences of free society, ere the hunger and want and nakedness of that
society engendered a revolutionary explosion that shook the world to its center. The
starving artisans and laborers, and fish-women and needle-women of Paris, were the
authors of the first French revolution, and that revolution was everywhere welcomed,
and spread from nation to nation like fire in the prairies…In 1830, Paris starves again,
builds barricades, continues hungry, and hesitates what next to do. Finally sets up a new
king, no better than the one she has expelled. Revolution follows revolution with electric
speed throughout great part of Western Europe. Kings are deposed, governments
changed; soon new kings put in their places, and things subside – not quietly – into
the status quo ante bellum . All this, while millions of the poor are fleeing from Europe as
men fly from an infected plague spot, to seek their fortunes in other climes and regions.
Another eighteen years of hunger, of crime, of riots, strikes, and trades unions, passes
over free society. In 1848 the drama of 1830 is almost literally re-enacted. Again Paris
starves, builds barricades, and expels her king. Again Western Europe follows her
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example. By this time, however, men had discovered that political changes would not
cure the diseases of society…
Liberty places those classes in positions of antagonism and war. Slavery identifies the
interests of rich and poor, master and slave, and begets domestic affection on the one
side, and loyalty and respect on the other. Young England sees clearly enough the
character of the disease, but is not bold enough to propose an adequate remedy. The
poor themselves are all practical Socialists, and in some degree pro-slavery men. They
unite in strikes and trades unions, and thus exchange a part of their liberties in order to
secure high and uniform wages. The exchange is a prudent and sensible one; but they
who have bartered off liberty, are fast verging towards slavery. Slavery to an association
is not always better than slavery to a single master. The professed object is to avoid
ruinous underbidding and competition with one another; but this competition can
never cease whilst liberty lasts…
Germany is full of Communists; social discontent is universal, and her people are
leaving en masse for America – hopeless of any amelioration at home for the future.
Strange to tell, in the free States of America too, Socialism and every other heresy that
can be invoked to make war on existing institutions, prevail to an alarming extent. Even
according to our own theory of the necessity of slavery, we should not suppose that that
necessity would be so soon felt in a new and sparsely-settled country, where the supply
of labor does not exceed the demand. But it is probable the constant arrival of emigrants
makes the situation of the laborer at the North as precarious as in Europe, and produces
a desire for some change that shall secure him employment and support at all times.
Slavery alone can effect that change; and towards slavery the North and all Western
Europe are unconsciously marching. The master evil they all complain of is free
competition – which is another name for liberty. Let them remove that evil, and they will
find themselves slaves, with all the advantages and disadvantages of slavery. They will
have attained association of labor, for slavery produces association of labor, and is one
of the ends all Communists and Socialists desire.
A well-conducted farm in the South is a model of associated labor…one old woman
nurses all the children whilst the mothers are at work; another waits on the sick, in a
house set aside for them. Another washes and cooks, and a fourth makes and mends the
clothing. It is a great economy of labor, and is a good idea of the Socialists. Slavery
protects the infants, the aged and the sick; nay, takes far better care of them than of the
healthy, the middle-aged and the strong. They are part of the family, and self-interest
and domestic affection combine to shelter, shield and foster them. A man loves not only
his horses and his cattle, which are useful to him, but he loves his dog, which is of no
use. He loves them because they are his. What a wise and beneficent provision of
Heaven, that makes the selfishness of man’s nature a protecting aegis to shield and
defend wife and children, slaves and even dumb animals. The Socialists propose to
reach this result too, but they never can if they refuse to march in the only road
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Providence has pointed out. Who will check, govern and control their superintending
authority? Who prevent his abuse of power? Who can make him kind, tender and
affectionate, to the poor, aged, helpless, sick and unfortunate? Nature establishes the
only safe and reliable checks and balances in government…
This farm is but a miniature of all England; every animal is well-treated and provided
for, except the laboring man. He is the slave of the brutes, the slave of society, produces
everything and enjoys nothing. Make him the slave of one man, instead of the slave of
society, and he would be far better off. None but lawyers and historians are aware how
much of truth, justice and good sense, there is in the notions of the Communists, as to
the community of property. Laying no stress on the too abstract proposition that
Providence gave the world not to one man, or set of men, but to all mankind, it is a fact
that all governments, in civilized countries, recognize the obligation to support the
poor, and thus, in some degree, make all property a common possession. The poor laws
and poor houses of England are founded on communistic principles. Each parish is
compelled to support its own poor. In Ireland, this obligation weighs so heavily as in
many instances to make farms valueless; the poor rates exceeding the rents.
But it is domestic slavery alone that can establish a safe, efficient and humane
community of property. It did so in ancient times, it did so in feudal times, and does so
now, in Eastern Europe, Asia and America. Slaves never die of hunger; seldom suffer
want. Hence Chinese sell themselves when they can do no better. A Southern farm is a
sort of joint stock concern, or social [commune or collective], in which the master
furnishes the capital and skill, and the slaves the labor, and divide the profits, not
according to each one’s in-put, but according to each one’s wants and necessities.
Socialism proposes to do away with free competition; to afford protection and support
at all times to the laboring class; to bring about, at least, a qualified community of
property, and to associate labor. All these purposes, slavery fully and perfectly attains.
On Racial Slavery
We have already stated that we should not attempt to introduce any new theories of
government and of society, but merely try to justify old ones, so far as we could deduce
such theories from ancient and almost universal practices. Now it has been the practice
in all countries and in all ages, in some degree, to accommodate the amount and
character of government control to the wants, intelligence, and moral capacities of the
nations or individuals to be governed. A highly moral and intellectual people, like the
free citizens of ancient Athens, are best governed by a democracy. For a less moral and
intellectual one, a limited and constitutional monarchy will answer. For a people either
very ignorant or very wicked, nothing short of military despotism will suffice. So among
individuals, the most moral and well-informed members of society require no other
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government than law. They are capable of reading and understanding the law, and have
sufficient self-control and virtuous disposition to obey it.
Children cannot be governed by mere law; first, because they do not understand it, and
secondly, because they are so much under the influence of impulse, passion and
appetite, that they want sufficient self-control to be deterred or governed by the distant
and doubtful penalties of the law. They must be constantly controlled by parents or
guardians, whose will and orders shall stand in the place of law for them. Very wicked
men must be put into penitentiaries; lunatics into asylums, and the most wild of them
into straight jackets, just as the most wicked of the sane are manacled with irons; and
idiots must have committees to govern and take care of them. Now, it is clear the
Athenian democracy would not suit a negro nation, nor will the government of mere law
suffice for the individual negro. He is but a grown up child, and must be governed as a
child, not as a lunatic or criminal. The master occupies towards him the place of parent
or guardian. We shall not dwell on this view, for no one will differ with us who thinks as
we do of the negro’s capacity, and we might argue till dooms-day, in vain, with those
who have a high opinion of the negro’s moral and intellectual capacity.
Secondly. The negro is improvident; will not lay up in summer for the wants of winter;
will not accumulate in youth for the exigencies of age. He would become an insufferable
burden to society. Society has the right to prevent this, and can only do so by subjecting
him to domestic slavery.
In the last place, the negro race is inferior to the white race, and living in their midst,
they would be far outstripped or outwitted in the chase of free competition. Gradual but
certain extermination would be their fate. We presume the maddest abolitionist does
not think the negro’s providence of habits and money-making capacity at all to compare
to those of the whites. This defect of character would alone justify enslaving him, if he is
to remain here. In Africa or the West Indies, he would become idolatrous, savage and
cannibal, or be devoured by savages and cannibals. At the North he would freeze or
starve.
We would remind those who deprecate and sympathize with negro slavery, that his
slavery here relieves him from a far more cruel slavery in Africa, or from idolatry and
cannibalism, and every brutal vice and crime that can disgrace humanity; and that it
christianizes, protects, supports and civilizes him; that it governs him far better than
free laborers at the North are governed. There, wife murder has become a mere holiday
pastime; and where so many wives are murdered, almost all must be brutally treated.
Nay, more: men who kill their wives or treat them brutally, must be ready for all kinds of
crime, and the calendar of crime at the North proves the inference to be correct.
Negroes never kill their wives. If it be objected that legally they have no wives, then we
reply, that in an experience of more than forty years, we never yet heard of a negro man
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killing a negro woman. Our negroes are not only better off as to physical comfort than
free laborers, but their moral condition is better.
But for the assaults of the abolitionists, much would have been done ere this to regulate
and improve Southern slavery. Our negro mechanics do not work so hard, have many
more privileges and holidays, and are better fed and clothed than field hands, and are
yet more valuable to their masters. The slaves of the South are cheated of their rights by
the purchase of Northern manufactures which they could produce. Besides, if we
employ our slaves in the coarser processes of the mechanic arts and manufactures, such
as brick making, getting and hewing timber for ships and houses, iron mining and
smelting, coal mining, grading railroads and plank roads, in the manufacture of cotton,
tobacco, &c. , we would find a vent in new employments for their increase, more
humane and more profitable than the vent afforded by new states and territories. The
nice finishing processes of manufactures and mechanics should be reserved for the
whites, who are fitted for them, and thus, by diversifying pursuits and cutting off
dependence on the North, we might benefit and advance the interests of our whole
population. Exclusive agriculture has depressed and impoverished the South…Free
trade doctrines, not slavery, have made the South agricultural and dependent, given her
a sparse and ignorant population, ruined her cities, and expelled her people…
We need never have white slaves in the South, because we have black ones. Our citizens,
like those of Rome and Athens, are a privileged class. We should train and educate them
to deserve the privileges and to perform the duties which society confers on them.
Instead, by a low demagoguism depressing their self-respect by discourses on the
equality of man, we had better excite their pride by reminding them that they do not
fulfil the menial which white men do in other countries. Society does not feel the burden
of providing for the few helpless paupers in the South. And we should recollect that here
we have but half the people to educate, for half are negroes; whilst at the North they
profess to educate all. It is in our power to spike this last gun of the abolitionists. We
should educate all the poor. The abolitionists say that it is one of the necessary
consequences of slavery that the poor are neglected. It was not so in Athens, and in
Rome, and should not be so in the South. If we had less trade with and less dependence
on the North, all our poor might be profitably and honorably employed in trades,
professions and manufactures. Then we should have a rich and denser population. Yet
we but marshal her in the way that she was going. The South is already aware of the
necessity of a new policy, and has begun to act on it. Every day more and more is done
for education, the mechanic arts, manufactures and internal improvements. We will
soon be independent of the North.
If the Socialists had done no other good, they would be entitled to the gratitude of
mankind for displaying in a strong light the advantages of the association of labor.
Adam Smith, in his elaborate treatise on the Division of Labor, nearly stumbled on the
same truth. But the division of labor is a curse to the laborer, without the association of
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labor. Division makes labor ten times more efficient, but by confining each workman to
some simple, monotonous employment, it makes him a mere automaton, and an easy
prey to the capitalist. The association of labor, like all associations, requires a head or
ruler, and that head or ruler will become a cheat and a tyrant, unless his interests are
identified with the interests of the laborer. In a large factory, in free society, there is
division of labor, and association too, but association and division for the benefit of the
employer and to the detriment of the laborer. On a large farm, whatever advances the
health, happiness and morals of the negroes, renders them more prolific and valuable to
their master. It is his interest to pay them high wages in way of support, and he can
afford to do so, because association renders the labor of each slave five times as
productive and efficient as it would be, were the slaves working separately. One man
could not enclose an acre of land, cultivate it, send his crops to market, do his own
cooking, washing and mending. One man may live as a prowling beast of prey, but not
as a civilized being. One hundred human beings, men, women and children, associated,
will cultivate ten acres of land each, enclose it, and carry on every other operation of
civilized life. Labor becomes at least twenty times as productive when a hundred
associate, as when one acts alone. The same is as true in other pursuits as in farming.
But in free society, the employer robs the laborer, and he is no better off than the
prowling savage, although he might live in splendor if he got a fair proportion of the
proceeds of his own labor.
We have endeavored to show, heretofore, that the negro slave, considering his indolence
and unskilfulness, often gets his fair share, and sometimes more than his share, of the
profits of the farm, and is exempted, besides, from the harassing cares and anxieties of
the free laborer. Grant, however, that the negro does not receive adequate wages from
his master, yet all admit that in the aggregate the negroes get better wages than free
laborers; therefore, it follows that, with all its imperfections, slave society is the best
form of society yet devised for the masses…
The industrial products of black slave labor have been far greater and more useful to
mankind, than those of the same amount of any other labor. In a very short period, the
South and South-west have been settled, cleared, fenced in, and put in cultivation, by
what were, a century ago, a handful of masters and slaves. This region now feeds and
clothes a great part of mankind; but free trade cheats them of the profits of their labor.
In the vast amount of our industrial products, we see the advantages of association – in
our comparative poverty, the evils of free trade.
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7. Abraham Lincoln, “On the Virtues of Free Labor,” (1859).
By far, the greatest long-term threat to the slavocracy was not necessarily the
increasingly vocal, but relatively small, abolitionist movement—it was the pervasive
embrace of free labor ideology among white Northern communities. Abraham Lincoln
embodied this anti-slavery labor ideology—that the natural right of every human being
was the right to own themselves and to own their own labor. Lincoln was born into
abject poverty in the frontiers of Kentucky in 1809 and watched as his father painfully
moved the family repeatedly in order to outrun slavery’s spread. As a poor white man,
Lincoln’s father knew that he could never compete with wealthy planters and the
unfree labor that they extracted from their slaves. Lincoln’s family eventually settled in
Illinois where he developed an unyielding appreciation for the virtues of hard work
and free labor. Born with a naturally curious and gifted mind, Lincoln embarked on a
successful career as a lawyer and eventually served multiple terms in the Illinois state
legislature. As a one-term Whig Congressman from 1847 to 1849, Lincoln experienced
the cruel realities of the slavocracy’s political power. He grew disillusioned and left
politics until the Bleeding Kansas crisis of 1854. From that moment on, Lincoln shared
the prevailing Northern view that the spread of slavery threatened economic mobility
and American democracy. By 1859, Lincoln was a rising star in the new Republican
Party. That year, among the many speeches he delivered across the North, Lincoln
spoke before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society, a hotbed for anti-slavery
opinion and Republican sympathy. The following speech effectively articulates the
essence of the free labor ideology that first emerged in Northern communities with the
disruptive changes of industrial capitalism.
The world is agreed that labor is the source from which human wants are mainly
supplied. There is no dispute upon this point. From this point, however, men
immediately diverge. Much disputation is maintained as to the best way of applying and
controlling the labor element. By some it is assumed that labor is available only in
connection with capital–that nobody labors, unless somebody else owning capital,
somehow, by the use of it, induces him to do it. Having assumed this, they proceed to
consider whether it is best that capital shall hire laborers, and thus induce them to work
by their own consent, or buy them, and drive them to it, without their consent. Having
proceeded so far, they naturally conclude that all laborers are necessarily either hired
laborers, or slaves. They further assume that whoever is once a hired laborer, is fatally
fixed in that condition for life; and thence again, that his condition is as bad as, or
worse, than that of a slave. This is the “mud-sill” theory.
But another class of reasoners hold the opinion that there is no such relation between
capital and labor, as assumed; and that there is no such thing as a freeman being fatally
fixed for life, on the condition of a hired laborer, that both these assumptions are false,
and all inferences from them groundless. They hold that labor is prior to, and
independent of, capital; that, in fact, capital is the fruit of labor, and could never have
40
existed if labor had not first existed–that labor can exist without capital, but that capital
could never have existed without labor. Hence they hold that labor is the superior–
greatly the superior of capital.
They do not deny that there is, and probably always will be, a relation between labor and
capital. The error, as they hold, is in assuming that the whole labor of the world exists
within that relation. A few men own capital; and that few avoid labor themselves, and
with their capital, hire or buy another few to labor for them. A large majority belong to
neither class–neither work for others, nor have others working for them.–Even in all
our slave States, except South Carolina, a majority of the whole people of all colors, are
neither slaves nor masters. In these Free States, a large majority are neither hirers or
hired. Men, with their families–wives, sons and daughters–work for themselves, on
their farms, in their houses and in their shops, taking the whole product to themselves,
and asking no favors of capital on the one hand, nor of hirelings or slaves on the other. It
is not forgotten that a considerable number of persons mingle their own labor with
capital; that is, labor with their own hands, and also buy slaves or hire freemen to labor
for them; but this is only a mixed, and not a distinct class. No principle stated is
disturbed by the existence of this mixed class. Again, as has already been said, the
opponents of the “mud-sill” theory insist that there is not, of necessity, any such thing as
the free hired laborer being fixed to that condition for life. There is demonstration for
saying this. Many independent men, in this assembly, doubtless a few years ago were
hired laborers. And their case is almost if not quite the general rule.
The prudent, penniless beginner in the world, labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus
with which to buy tools or land, for himself; then labors on his own account another
while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This, say its advocates, is
free labor–the just and generous, and prosperous system, which opens the way for all–
gives hope to all, and energy, and progress, and improvement of condition to all. If any
continue through life in the condition of the hired laborer, it is not the fault of the
system, but because of either a dependent nature which prefers it, or improvidence,
folly, or singular misfortune. I have said this much about the elements of labor
generally; as introductory to the consideration of a new phase which that element is in
process of assuming. The old general rule was that educated people did not perform
manual labor. They managed to eat their bread, leaving the toil of producing it to the
uneducated. This was not an insupportable evil to the working bees, so long as the class
of drones remained very small. But now, especially in these free States, nearly all are
educated–quite too nearly all, to leave the labor of the uneducated, in any wise adequate
to the support of the whole. It follows from this that henceforth educated people must
labor. Otherwise, education itself would become a positive and intolerable evil. No
country can sustain, in idleness, more than a small percentage of its numbers. The great
majority must labor at something productive. From these premises the problem
springs–“How can labor and education be the most satisfactorily combined?”
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By the “mud-sill” theory it is assumed that labor and education are incompatible; and
any practical combination of them impossible. According to that theory, a blind horse
upon a treadmill, is a perfect illustration of what a laborer should be–all the better for
being blind, that he could not kick understandingly. According to that theory, the
education of laborers, is not only useless, but pernicious and dangerous. In fact, it is, in
some sort, deemed a misfortune that laborers should have heads at all. Those same
heads are regarded as explosive materials, only to be safely kept in damp places, as far as
possible from that peculiar sort of fire which ignites them. A Yankee who could invent
strong handed man without a head would receive the everlasting gratitude of the “mudsill”
advocates.
But free labor says “no!” Free labor argues that, as the Author of man makes every
individual with one head and one pair of hands, it was probably intended that heads and
hands should cooperate as friends; and that that particular head, should direct and
control that particular pair of hands. As each man has one mouth to be fed, and one pair
of hands to furnish food, it was probably intended that that particular pair of hands
should feed that particular mouth–that each head is the natural guardian, director and
protector of the hands and mouth inseparably connected with it; and that being so,
every head should be cultivated, and improved, by whatever will add to its capacity for
performing its charge. In one word free labor insists on universal education…
Let us hope, rather, that by the best cultivation of the physical world, beneath and
around us, and the intellectual and moral world within us, we shall secure an individual,
social, and political prosperity and happiness, whose course shall be onward and
upward, and which, while the earth endures, shall not pass away.
8. Hinton Rowan Helper, “The Impending Crisis of the South,” (1857).
Northern free labor ideology was not limited to just Northern states. By the 1840s and
1850s, a growing minority of white Southerners—agricultural reformers and antislavery
advocates—began to utilize free labor ideology in an effort to appeal to the
majority of white Southerners who did not own slaves (a number that consisted of
roughly 75% of the white Southern population). One of those Southern free labor
advocates was Hinton Rowan Helper, who grew up in Rowan County, North Carolina, a
region of small-scale farmers and Quakers of German descent. Due to this, the people
of Rowan County largely rejected slavery as the ideal labor system. Helper traveled the
Northern states and eventually concluded that slavery had made the South
economically backwards. Helper held a particular disdain for the elite Southern
planter class—the slavocracy—who he saw as ruining the social, political, and
economic mobility of ordinary Southerners in the name of their own narrow selfinterests.
Although Helper was an unabashed white supremacist, he toned down his
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racism in his The Impending Crisis of the South (1857) in an effort to attract moderate
Northern free labor advocates to the cause of Southerners who rejected slavery.
It is a fact well known to every intelligent Southerner that we are compelled to go to the
North for almost every article of utility and adornment, from matches, shoepegs and
paintings up to cotton-mills, steamships and statuary; that we have no foreign trade, no
princely merchants, nor respectable artists; that, in comparison with the free states, we
contribute nothing to the literature, polite arts and inventions of the age; that, for want
of profitable employment at home, large numbers of our native population find
themselves necessitated to emigrate to the West, whilst the free states retain not only
the larger proportion of those born within their own limits, but induce, annually,
hundreds of thousands of foreigners to settle and remain amongst them; that almost
everything produced at the North meets with ready sale, while, at the same time, there is
no demand, even among our own citizens, for the productions of Southern industry;
that, owing to the absence of a proper system of business amongst us, the North
becomes, in one way or another, the proprietor and dispenser of all our floating wealth,
and that we are dependent on Northern capitalists for the means necessary to build our
railroads, canals and other public improvements; that if we want to visit a foreign
country, even though it may lie directly South of us, we find no convenient way of
getting there except by taking passage through a Northern port; and that nearly all the
profits arising from the exchange of commodities, from insurance and shipping offices,
and from the thousand and one industrial pursuits of the country, accrue to the North,
and are there invested in the erection of those magnificent cities and stupendous works
of art which dazzle the eyes of the South, and attest the superiority of free institutions!
The North is the Mecca of our merchants, and to it they must and do make two
pilgrimages per annum–one in the spring and one in the fall. All our commercial,
mechanical, manufactural, and literary supplies come from there. We want Bibles,
brooms, buckets and books, and we go to the North; we want pens, ink, paper, wafers
and envelopes, and we go to the North; we want shoes, hats, handkerchiefs, umbrellas
and pocket knives, and we go to the North; we want furniture, crockery, glassware and
pianos, and we go to the North; we want toys, primers, school books, fashionable
apparel, machinery, medicines, tombstones, and a thousand other things, and we go to
the North for them all. Instead of keeping our money in circulation at home, by
patronizing our own mechanics, manufacturers, and laborers, we send it all away to the
North, and there it remains; it never falls into our hands again.
In one way or another we are more or less subservient to the North every day of our
lives. In infancy we are swaddled in Northern muslin; in childhood we are humored
with Northern gewgaws; in youth we are instructed out of Northern books; at the age of
maturity we sow our “wild oats” on Northern soil; in middle-life we exhaust our wealth,
energies and talents in the dishonorable vocation of entailing our dependence on our
43
children and on our children’s children, and, to the neglect of our own interests and the
interests of those around us, in giving aid and succor to every department of Northern
power; in the decline of life we remedy our eye-sight with Northern spectacles, and
support our infirmities with Northern canes; in old age we are drugged with Northern
physic; and, finally, when we die, our inanimate bodies, shrouded in Northern cambric,
are stretched upon the bier, borne to the grave in a Northern carriage, entombed with a
Northern spade, and memorized with a Northern slab!
And now to the point. In our opinion, an opinion which has been formed from data
obtained by assiduous researches, and comparisons, from laborious investigation,
logical reasoning, and earnest reflection, the causes which have impeded the progress
and prosperity of the South, which have dwindled our commerce, and other similar
pursuits, into the most contemptible insignificance; sunk a large majority of our people
in galling poverty and ignorance, rendered a small minority conceited and tyrannical,
and driven the rest away from their homes; entailed upon us a humiliating dependence
on the Free States; disgraced us in the recesses of our own souls, and brought us under
reproach in the eyes of all civilized and enlightened nations–may all be traced to one
common source, and there find solution in the most hateful and horrible word, that was
ever incorporated into the vocabulary of human economy–Slavery!
Reared amidst the institution of slavery, believing it to be wrong both in principle and in
practice, and having seen and felt its evil influences upon individuals, communities and
states, we deem it a duty, no less than a privilege, to enter our protest against it, and to
use our most strenuous efforts to overturn and abolish it! Then we are an abolitionist?
Yes! not merely a free soiler, but an abolitionist, in the fullest sense of the term. We are
not only in favor of keeping slavery out of the territories, but, carrying our opposition to
the institution a step further, we here unhesitatingly declare ourself in favor of its
immediate and unconditional abolition, in every state in this confederacy, where it now
exists! Patriotism makes us a free soiler; state pride makes us an emancipationist; a
profound sense of duty to the South makes us an abolitionist; a reasonable degree of
fellow feeling for the negro, makes us a colonizationist…
Nothing short of the complete abolition of slavery can save the South from falling into
the vortex of utter ruin. Too long have we yielded a submissive obedience to the
tyrannical domination of an inflated oligarchy; too long have we tolerated their
arrogance and self-conceit; too long have we submitted to their unjust and savage
exactions. Let us now wrest from them the sceptre of power, establish liberty and equal
rights throughout the land, and henceforth and forever guard our legislative halls from
the pollutions and usurpations of proslavery demagogues…
44
After illustrating the data showing vast food production in Northern states compared
to the South:
So much for the boasted agricultural superiority of the South! Mark well the balance in
bushels, and the difference in value! Is either in favor of the South? No! Are both in favor
of the North? Yes! Here we have unquestionable proof that of all the bushel-measure
products of the nation, the free states produce far more than one-half; and it is worthy
of particular mention, that the excess of Northern products is of the most valuable
kind. The account shows a balance against the South, in favor of the North, of seventeen
million four hundred and twenty-three thousand one hundred and fifty-two
bushels, and a difference in value of forty-four million seven hundred and eighty-two
thousand six hundred and thirty-six dollars. Please bear these facts in mind, for, in
order to show positively how the free and slave States do stand upon the great and
important subject of rural economy, we intend to take an account of all the other
products of the soil, of the live-stock upon farms, of the animals slaughtered, and, in
fact, of every item of husbandry of the two sections; and if, in bringing our tabular
exercises to a close, we find slavery gaining upon freedom–a thing it has never yet been
known to do–we shall, as a matter of course, see that the above amount is transferred to
the credit of the side to which it of right belongs…
There are few Southerners who will not be astonished at the disclosures of these
statistical comparisons, between the free and the slave States. That the astonishment of
the more intelligent and patriotic non-slaveholders will be mingled with indignation, is
no more than we anticipate. We confess our own surprise, and deep chagrin, at the
result of our investigations. Until we examined into the matter, we thought and hoped
the South was really ahead of the North in one particular, that of agriculture; but our
thoughts have been changed, and our hopes frustrated, for instead of finding ourselves
the possessors of a single advantage, we behold our dear native South stripped of every
laurel, and sinking deeper and deeper in the depths of poverty and shame; while, at the
same time, we see the North, our successful rival, extracting and absorbing the few
elements of wealth yet remaining amongst us, and rising higher and higher in the scale
of fame, fortune, and invulnerable power. Thus our disappointment gives way to a
feeling of intense mortification, and our soul involuntarily, but justly, we believe, cries
out for retribution against the treacherous, slavedriving legislators, who have so basely
and unpatriotically neglected the interests of their poor white constituents and
bargained away the rights of posterity. Notwithstanding the fact that the white nonslaveholders
of the South, are in the majority, as five to one, they have never yet had any
part or lot in framing the laws under which they live. There is no legislation except for
the benefit of slavery, and slaveholders. As a general rule, poor white persons are
regarded with less esteem and attention than negroes, and though the condition of the
latter is wretched beyond description, vast numbers of the former are infinitely worse
off. A cunningly devised mockery of freedom is guaranteed to them, and that is all. To all
intents and purposes they are disfranchised, and outlawed, and the only privilege
45
extended to them, is a shallow and circumscribed participation in the political
movements that usher slaveholders into office…
The lords of the lash are not only absolute masters of the blacks, who are bought and
sold, and driven about like so many cattle, but they are also the oracles and arbiters of all
non-slaveholding whites, whose freedom is merely nominal, and whose unparalleled
illiteracy and degradation is purposely and fiendishly perpetuated. How little the “poor
white trash,” the great majority of the Southern people, know of the real condition of the
country is, indeed, sadly astonishing. The truth is, they know nothing of public
measures, and little of private affairs, except what their imperious masters, the slavedrivers,
condescend to tell, and that is but precious little, and even that little, always
garbled and one-sided, is never told except in public harangues; for the haughty
cavaliers of shackles and handcuffs will not degrade themselves by holding private
converse with those who have neither dimes nor hereditary rights in human flesh.
Whenever it pleases, and to the extent it pleases, a slaveholder to become
communicative, poor whites may hear with fear and trembling, but not speak. They
must be as mum as dumb brutes, and stand in awe of their august superiors, or be
crushed with stern rebukes, cruel oppressions, or downright violence. If they dare to
think for themselves, their thoughts must be forever concealed. The expression of any
sentiment at all conflicting with the gospel of slavery, dooms them at once in the
community in which they live, and then, whether willing or unwilling, they are obliged
to become heroes, martyrs, or exiles. They may thirst for knowledge, but there is no
Moses among them to smite it out of the rocks of Horeb. The black veil, through whose
almost impenetrable meshes light seldom gleams, has long been pendent over their
eyes, and there, with fiendish jealousy, the slave-driving ruffians sedulously guard it.
Non-slaveholders are not only kept in ignorance of what is transpiring at the North, but
they are continually misinformed of what is going on even in the South. Never were the
poorer classes of a people, and those classes so largely in the majority, and all inhabiting
the same country, so basely duped, so adroitly swindled, or so damnably outraged.
It is expected that the stupid and sequacious masses, the white victims of slavery, will
believe, and, as a general thing, they do believe, whatever the slaveholders tell them; and
thus it is that they are cajoled into the notion that they are the freest, happiest and most
intelligent people in the world, and are taught to look with prejudice and disapprobation
upon every new principle or progressive movement. Thus it is that the South, woefully
inert and inventionless, has lagged behind the North, and is now weltering in the
cesspool of ignorance and degradation…
Non-slaveholders of the South! farmers, mechanics and workingmen, we take this
occasion to assure you that the slaveholders, the arrogant demagogues whom you have
elected to offices of honor and profit, have hoodwinked you, trifled with you, and used
you as mere tools for the consummation of their wicked designs. They have purposely
46
kept you in ignorance, and have, by moulding your passions and prejudices to suit
themselves, induced you to act in direct opposition to your dearest rights and interests.
By a system of the grossest subterfuge and misrepresentation, and in order to avert, for
a season, the vengeance that will most assuredly overtake them ere long, they have
taught you to hate the abolitionists, who are your best and only true friends. Now, as one
of your own number, we appeal to you to join us in our patriotic endeavors to rescue the
generous soil of the South from the usurped and desolating control of these political
vampires. Once and forever, at least so far as this country is concerned, the infernal
question of slavery must be disposed of; a speedy and perfect abolishment of the whole
institution is the true policy of the South–and this is the policy which we propose to
pursue. Will you aid us, will you assist us, will you be freemen, or will you be slaves?
These are questions of vital importance; weigh them well in your minds; come to a
prudent and firm decision, and hold yourselves in readiness to act in accordance
therewith. You must either be for us or against us–anti-slavery or pro-slavery; it is
impossible for you to occupy a neutral ground; it is as certain as fate itself, that if you do
not voluntarily oppose the usurpations and outrages of the slavocrats, they will force you
into involuntary compliance with their infamous measures. Consider well the
aggressive, fraudulent and despotic power which they have exercised in the affairs
of Kansas; and remember that, if, by adhering to erroneous principles of neutrality or
non-resistance, you allow them to force the curse of slavery on that vast and fertile field,
the broad area of all the surrounding States and Territories–the whole nation, in fact–
will soon fall a prey to their diabolical intrigues and machinations. Thus, if you are not
vigilant, will they take advantage of your neutrality, and make you and others the
victims of their inhuman despotism. Do not reserve the strength of your arms until you
shall have been rendered powerless to strike; the present is the proper time for action;
under all the circumstances, apathy or indifference is a crime. First ascertain, as nearly
as you can, the precise nature and extent of your duty, and then, without a moment’s
delay, perform it in good faith. To facilitate you in determining what considerations of
right, justice and humanity require at your hands, is one of the primary objects of this
work; and we shall certainly fail in our desire if we do not accomplish our task in a
manner acceptable to God and advantageous to man.

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