« AnteriorContinuar »
ABOLITION IN THE EEVOLUTIONARY AGE.
THE RISE AND PEOGEESS OF ABOLITION.
The General Congress which convened at Philadelphia in 1774, framed articles of Association between the colonies, one of which was a solemn agreement "that we will neither import nor purchase any slave imported after the 1st of December next;" being moved thereto by State action of like character, wherein Virginia and North Carolina were honorably conspicuous. Most of the States, accordingly, prohibited the Slave-Trade during or soon after the Revolution. Throughout the war for independence, the Eights of Man wrere proclaimed as the great objects of our struggle. "General Gates, the hero of Saratoga, emancipated his slaves in 1780. The first recorded Abolition Society—that of Pennsylvania —was formed in 1774. The New York Manumission Society was founded in 1785: John Jay was its first President; Alexander Hamilton its second. Rhode Island followed in 1786; Maryland in 1789; Connecticut in 1790; Yirginia in 1791; New Jersey in 1792. The discovery that such societies were at war with the Federal Constitution, or with the reciprocal duties of citizens of the several States, was not made till nearly forty years afterward. These
Abolition Societies were largely composed of the most eminent as well as
the worthiest citizens. Among them
* were, in Maryland, Samuel Chase,
a signer of the Declaration, and Luther Martin, one of the framers of the Constitution; in Delaware, James A. Bayard,1 afterward in Congress, and Caesar A. Rodney, who became Attorney-General. The Pennsylvania Society had Benjamin Franklin for its President, and Benjamin Push for Secretary —both signers of the, Declaration. This,2 among other such societies, memorialized the first Federal Congress, then sitting at Philadelphia, against Slavery, asking *
"that you will be pleased to countenance the restoration to liberty of* those unhappy men" who, alone in this land of freedom, are degraded into perpetual bondage, and who, amid the general joy of surrounding freemen, are groaning in servile subjection; that you will devise means for removing this inconsistency of character from the American people; that you will promote mercy and justice toward this distressed race; and that you will step to the very verge of the power vested in you for discouraging every speci«rs of traffic in the persons of our fellow-men.1'
Congress courteously received this and similar memorials, calmly considered them, and decided that it had no power to abolish Slavery in the
of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, who devoted the best of his life to the cause of the Cherokees, has summed up, in a letter to a sympathizing friend, his convictions as to the ultimate cause of the perfidy and oppression of which they were the victims:
"Without that disregard of human rights which is to be found among slaveholders only, nothing could have been done against the Indians: and without the base surrender of all per
sonal dignity and independence to the capricious mandate of party discipline, the slaveholders would not have received aid enough to carry their point."—Life, of Jeremiah Evarts, Boston, 1846, p. 367.
1 Father of one of her present U. S. Senators.
2 Franklin, then 84 years of age, signed this memorial on the 3d of February, 1790, and died on the 17th of April following.
States which saw fit to authorize and cherish it. There was no excitement, no menace, no fury. South Carolina and Georgia, of course, opposed the prayer, but in parliamentary language. It is noteworthy, that among those who leaned furthest toward the petitioners were Messrs. Parker and Page, of Virginia—the latter in due time her Governor. They urged, not that the prayer should be granted, but that the memorial be referred, and respectfully considered.
Yermont framed a State Constitution in 1777, and embodied in it a Bill of Eights, whereof the first article precluded Slavery.
Massachusetts framed a constitution in 1780, wherein was embodied a Declaration of Eights, affirming that
"All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and inalienable rights, among which are the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties, and that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property."
The Supreme Court of that State, upon the first case arising which involved the question, decided that this provision had abolished Slavery.
New Hampshire was, in like manner, held to have abolished Slavery by her Constitution, framed in 1783.
Pennsylvania passed a Gradual Emancipation Act, March 1, 1780. All persons born in that State after that day, were to be free at the age of twenty-eight.
Ehode Island provided by law that all persons born in that State after March, 1784, should be free.
Connecticut, in 1784, passed an act providing for gradual Abolition. She had still two thousand seven hundred and fifty-nine slaves in 1790.
New York provided for Gradual Emancipation in 1799. In 1817, a further act was passed, decreeing that there should be no Slavery in the State after the 4th of July, 1827. Ten thousand slaves were set free at once by this act.
New Jersey passed an act, in 1804, designed to put an end to Slavery. It was so very gradual in its operation, that the census of 1840 reported six hundred and seventy-four slaves as still held in that State.
The frequently reiterated Southern assertion that the Northern States "sold their slaves to the South, and then abolished Slavery," is abundantly refuted. Pennsylvania, New York, and doubtless most other States, by their acts of emancipation, imposed severe penalties on the exportation of slaves. Delaware, though a Slave State, long since did, and still does, the same.
The North emerged from the Missouri struggle chafed and mortified. It felt that, with Eight and Power both on its side, it had been badly beaten, through the treachery of certain of its own representative^, whom it proceeded to deal with accordingly. Few, indeed—^hardly one—of those Northern members who had sided with the South in that struggle were reelected. That lesson given, what more could be done % Missouri was in the Union, and could not be turned out. Arkansas was organized as a Slave Territory, and would in due time become a Slave State. What use in protracting an agitation which had no longer a definite object? Mr. Monroe had just been reelected President, and the harmony of the party would be disturbed by permitting 109
THE SOUTH REBUKES EDWARD EYERETT.
the fend to become chronic. Those who perpetuated it wonld be most unlikely to share bounteously in the distribution of Federal offices and honors. Then a new Presidential contest began to loom np in the distance, and all manner of speculations were current, and hopes were buoyant, with regard to it. Yet more: the Cotton culture was rapidly expanding, and with it Southern trade, bringing the Northern seaports more and more under their sway.
There had been an effort, in 1817, to secure the passage through Congress of a more effective Fugitive Slave Law, which was defeated, after a most spirited discussion. In 1826 (March 9th), the subject of Slavery was brought before the House by Mr. Edward Everett—then a new and very young member from Massachusetts—who incidentally expressed his hostility to all projects of violent Abolition, his readiness to shoulder a musket to put down a slave insurrection, and his conviction, with regard to Slavery, that, "while it subsists, where it subsists, its duties are presupposed and sanctioned by religion," etc., etc. But this strange outburst, instead of being gratefully hailed and welcomed, was repelled and reprobat
ed by the South. Mr. Mitchell, of Tennessee, though himself a slaveholder, pointedly dissented from it. Mr. C. C. Cambreleng, of New York, (a North Carolinian by birth and training), said:
"The gentleman from Massachusetts has gone too far. He has expressed opinions which ought not to escape animadversion. I heard them with great surprise and regret. I was astonished to hear him declare that Slavery—domestic Slavery—say what you will, is a condition of life, as well as any other, to be justified by morality, religion, and international law," etc., etc.
And John Randolph, of Virginia —himself a life-Long slaveholder and opponent of the North—saw fit to say:
"Sir, I envy neither the head nor the heart of that man from the North, who rises here to defend Slavery upon principle."
So that, so late as 1826, the doctrine of the essential righteousness and beneficence of Slavery had not yet been accepted in any quarter.3
Yirginia, in 1829, assembled4 a Convention of her people to revise their Constitution. Ex-President James Monroe* was chosen to preside, and was conducted to the chair by ex-President James Madison and Chief Justice Marshall. The first
3 Eoger Brooke Taney—late Chief Justice of the United States—in defending as a lawyer, in 1818, before a Maryland court, Rev. Jacob G-ruber, charged with anti-Slavery inculcations and acts, thus happily set forth the old Revolutionary idea of Slavery, and the obligations it imposes:
"A hard necessity, indeed, compels us to endure the evils of Slavery for a time. It was imposed upon us by another nation, while yet we were in a state of colonial vassalage. It cannot be easily or suddenly removed. Yet, while it continues, it is a blot on our national character, and every real lover of freedom confidently hopes that it will be effectually, though it must be gradually, wiped away, and earnestly looks for the means by which this necessary object
may be attained. And, until it shall be accomplished, until the time come when we can point without a blush to the language held in the Declaration of Independence, every friend of humanity will seek to lighten the galling chain of Slavery, and better, to the utmost of his power, the wretched condition of the slave."
4At Richmond, October 5th.
5 Mr. Monroe, in a speech (November 2d), on the Basis of Representation, said, incidentally of Slavery:
"No imputation can be cast on Yirginia in this matter. She did all that it was in her power to do to prevent the extension of Slavery, and to mitigate its evils so far as she could."
earnest collision was on the White Basis, so called—that is, on the proposition that representation and political power should be apportioned to the several counties on the basis of their White population alone. The Committee on the Legislative department decided in favor of the White Basis by 13 to 11—James Madison's vote giving that side the majority; but he voted also against the White Basis for the Senate, making a tie on that point. A strong excitement having arisen on this question, General Eobert B. Taylor, of Norfolk, an advocate of the White Basis, resigned, and his seat was filled by Hugh B. Grigsby, of opposite views. At length,6 the Convention came to a vote, on the proposition of a Mr. Green, of Culpepper, that the White Basis be stricken out, and the Federal Basis (the white inhabitants with "three-fifths of all other persons") be substituted. This was defeated— Teas 47 (including Grigsby aforesaid); Nays 49—every delegate voting. Among the Yeas were exPresident Madison, Chief Justice Marshall, Benjamin Watkins Leigh, Philip P. Barbour, John Eandolph of Koanoke, William B. Giles,- John Tyler, etc. Among the Nays (for the White Basis) were ex-President Monroe, Philip Doddridge, Charles F. Mercer, Chapman Johnson, Lewis Summers, etc. As a rule, Western (comparatively Free) Yirginia voted
for the White Basis, with some help from the East; and it was computed that the majority represented 402,631 of Free Population, and the minority but 280,000. But the minority was strong in intellect, in numbers, and in resolution, and it fought desperately through weeks of earnest debate and skillful maneuvering. President Monroe, in December, resigned the chair, and his seat, and his constituents offered the latter to General R. B. Taylor aforesaid, who declined, when it was given to a Mr. Osborne. Finally, a proposition by Mr. Upshur (afterward Secretary of State) was so amended, on motion of Mr. Gordon, as to prescribe, arbitrarily, that thirteen Senators should be apportioned to counties west of the Blue Ridge, and nineteen to those east of it, with a corresponding allotment of Delegates in four parcels to the various natural divisions of the State, and was carried by 55 Yeas to 41 Nays— a motion that the Senate apportionment be based on Federal numbers, and that for the House on the White population, having first been voted down—48 to 48. So the effort of the West, and of the relatively nonslaveholding sections of Yirginia, to wrest political power from the slaveholding oligarchy of the tide-water counties, was defeated, despite the sanguine promise at the outset; and the Old Dominion sunk again into the arms of the negro-breeders.T
6 November 16th.
7 Hezekiah Niles, in his Weekly Register of October 31, 1829, thus forcibly depicted the momentous issues for Yirginia and the country, then hinging on the straggle in Richmond:
"virginia Convention.*—The committees having chiefly reported, 'the tug of war' between the 'old lights' and the new has commenced; and the question is to be settled whether trees and stones, and arbitrary divisions of land, with
almost as senseless herds of black slaves, or the free, tax-paying inhabitants of the State, shall have political power. Yery important events will grow out of this convention, and their effect will not be confined to Yirginia. We hope and believe, that the free white population of the State will be adopted as the basis of representation in the popular branch of the Legislature— indeed, it cannot be popular without it; but perhaps the Senate may be apportioned according to * federal numbers,' in which three-fifths of the
THE YOUTH OF BENJAMIN LUNDT.
Some years later (in 1831-2), on the occurrence of the slave insurrection in Southampton county, known as Nat. Turner's, her people were aroused to a fresh and yivid conception of the perils and evils of Slavery, and her Legislature, for a time, seemed on the point of inaugurating a system of Gradual Emancipation; but the impulse was finally, though with difficulty, overborne. Several who have since cast in their lot with the Slaveholders' Rebellion—among them Jas. C. Faulkner, late Minister to England—at that time spoke earnestly and forcibly for Emancipation, as an imperative necessity. And this is noteworthy as the last serious effort by the politicians of any Slave State8 to rid her of the giant curse, prior to the outbreak of the Slaveholders' Rebellion.
Benjamin Ltjndy deserves the high honor of ranking as the pioneer of direct and distinctive Anti-Slavery
in America. Many who lived before and cotemporary with him were Abolitionists: but he was the first of our countrymen who devoted his life and all his powers exclusively to the cause of the slave. Born in Sussex county, .New Jersey, January 4, 1789, of Quaker parents, whose ancestors for several generations had lived and died in this country, he injured himself, while still a mere boy, by excessive labor on his father's farm, incurring thereby a partial loss of hearing, from which he never recovered. Slight in frame and below the common hight, unassuming in manner and gentle in spirit, he gave to the cause of Emancipation neither wealth, nor eloquence, nor lofty abilities, for he/had them not; but his courage, perseverance, and devotion were unsurpassed; and these combined to render him a formidable, though disregarded if not despised, antagonist to our national crime. Leaving his father's farm at nineteen years of age, he wandered
slaves are counted. If the latter may stand as a peace-offering to the departing power of the old lights, we would let them have it—in a few years, under a liberal Constitution, the free population of middle and western Virginia will be so increased, that the power in the Senate, derived from slaves, will not be injuriously felt. And then will the tacticians, who have kept Virginia back half a century, compared with New York and Pennsylvania, disappear, and give place to practical men—then will roads and canals be made, domestic manufactures encouraged, and a free and virtuous and laborious.people give wealth and power and security to the commonwealtn—the 'old families,' as they are called—persons much partaking of the character of the old nobility of France, imbecile and incorrigible—pass away, and a healthful and happy, bold and intelligent middle class rise up to sweeten and invigorate society, by rendering labor honorable; and Richmond will not any longer be All Virginia, as a distinguished gentleman used to proclaim, in matters of politics or policy. The moral effects of these things over the slave population of Virginia, and in the adjacent States, are hardly to be calculated. The presence of numerous slaves is incompatible with that of a numerous free population; and it is shown that the labor of the latter, in all the
important operations of agriculture or the arts, except the cultivation of cotton, sugar, tobacco, and rice (as at present carried on), is the cheapest and the best. And in truth, it wpnld not perhaps be straining the facts too far, to express an opinion, that the greatest question before the Virginia convention is, the perpetual duration of negro slavery, or the increase of a generous and free white population."
8 In 1849, when Kentucky revised her State Constitution, Henry Clay formally renewed the appeal in favor of Gradual Emancipation, which' he had made, when a very young man, on the occasion of her organization as a State; but the response from the people was feeble and ineffective. Delaware has repeatedly endeavored to rid herself of Slavery by legislation; but partisan Democracy has uniformly opposed and defeated every movement looking to this end. She, though slaveholding, has for sixty years or more been truly, emphatically, a Border State. Slavery has only been kept so long alive within her limits for the benefit, and by the strenuous efforts, of the Democratic party. It is now evidently near its end.