Imágenes de páginas

appeared a pamphlet of a different tenor; an Appeal, by Walker, a Boston negro, addressed directly to the slaves. It was a fiery recital of their wrongs and an incitement to forcible redress. Its appearance in the South caused great excitement. The Governors of Virginia and Georgia sent special messages to their Legislatures about it. Garrison wrote of it, in the Genius: “It breathes the most impassioned and determined spirit. We deprecate its publication, though we cannot but wonder at the bravery and intelligence of its author." Garrison's biographers-his sons—speak of Walker as “a sort of John the Baptist to the new antislavery dispensation.” It was well for the Baptist that his head was out of Herod's reach. The Georgia Legislature passed in a single day a bill forbidding the entry of free negroes into the State, and making "the circulation of pamphlets of evil tendency among our domestics” a capital offense.

Large as these events loom in the retrospect, they were comparatively little noticed in their time. Virginia held in 1830 a convention for the revision of her constitution; among its members were Madison, Monroe, and Randolph; and emancipation was not even mentioned. Jefferson was dead, and the spirit of Jefferson seemed dead. Then the unexpected happened. There was a negro preacher, a slave named Nat Turner. He was a man of slight figure, reputed among his people a sort of prophet, addicted to visions and rhapsodies. He planned in 1831 an uprising of the slaves. He circulated among them a document written in blood, with cabalistic figures, and pictures of the sun and a crucifix. One night he and a group of companions set out on their revolt. Others joined them voluntarily or by impressment till they numbered forty. They began by killing Turner's master and his family; then they killed a lady and her ten children; they attacked a girls' boarding

school and killed all the inmates. Houses stood open and unguarded, and most of the white men were away at a camp-meeting. From Sunday night till Monday noon the band went on its way unchecked, and killed sixty persons. Then the neighborhood rallied and overcame them; slew several on the spot; but held the rest for trial, which was held regularly and fairly, and thirteen were executed. The origin of the outbreak remained mysterious. Turner said on his trial that he had not been unkindly treated, and there was no evidence of provocation by special abuse. There was no trace of any instigation from the North in any form. It seemed not a stroke for freedom by men worthy to be free; not even a desperate revolt against intolerable wrong; but more like an outbreak of savagery, the uprising of the brute in man, thirsty for blood. The fear at first prevailed that there existed a widespread conspiracy, and various legislation for protection and repression was enacted or discussed.

But the larger mind of Virginia was moved toward a radical treatment of the disease itself, instead of its symptoms. In the next session of the Legislature, 1831-2, proposals for a general emancipation were brought forward, and the whole subject was canvassed in a long and earnest debate. For slavery on its merits hardly a word of defense was spoken. The moral condemnation was not frequent or strong, but the economic mischief was conceded by almost all. It was recognized that labor was debased; manufactures and immigration were discouraged; the yeomanry were leaving the State. One bold speaker declared that the masters were not entitled to compensation, since property condemned by the State as a nuisance brings no award of damages to the owner. But the general agreement was that emancipation should be compensated and gradual, and that the blacks must be removed from the State. One plan was

that they should be deported in a body to Africa; another, that the increase—about 6000 a year-should be so deported; while Thomas Jefferson Randolph urged a plan which recalled that framed by his uncle, Thomas Jefferson, half a century before. He proposed that the owner should maintain the slave-child till the age of eighteen or twentyone, his labor for the last six or eight years being regarded as compensation for the expense of infancy; and that the slave should then be hired out till he had earned his passage to Africa. But, whatever the method, let decisive action be taken, and taken now! The Legislature, it is said, was largely made up of young and inexperienced men. Would not the courage and hopefulness of Virginia youth essay this great deliverance? Older voices bade them to the task. Said the Richmond Enquirer (edited by the elder Ritchie), January 7, 1832: “Means, sure but gradual, systematic but discreet, ought to be adopted for reducing the mass of evil which is pressing upon the South, and will still more press upon her the longer it is put off. We say, now, in the utmost sincerity of our hearts, that our wisest men cannot give too much of their attention to this subject, nor can they give it too soon." It was one of the decisive hours of history: Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide, In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side.

But the task was too great, or the life-long habit of the slave-owner had been too enervating.

The apparent expense, the collision of different plans, the difficulty in revolutionizing the whole industrial system, the hold of an aristocracy affording to its upper class a fascinating leisure and luxury—these, and the absence of any high moral inspiration in the movement, brought it to naught. Instead of decreeing emancipation, the Legislature fell back on

the policy of stricter repression. It enacted that the advocacy of rebellion by writing or printing should be a penitentiary offense, and to express the opinion that masters had no rights to their slaves was made punishable by a fine of $500 and one year in jail. To advise conspiracy was treason and its punishment death. It had been enacted a year before that no white man be allowed to assemble slaves to instruct them in reading and writing; and to this it was now added that neither slaves nor free negroes be allowed to preach.

And so Virginia abdicated her old-time leadership in the cause of human rights, and the primacy of the South passed to South Carolina and to Calhoun, the champion of slavery.

In the meantime the organization of the radical antislavery force went on at the North. In 1832 Garrison, Oliver Johnson and ten others constituted themselves the New England Anti-slavery Society. Almost its first attack was directed against the Colonization Society, Garrison being always as fierce against half-way friends as against pronounced foes. In 1833 a little group of more moderate but resolute men organized a local association in New York city, and under their call the American Anti-slavery Society held its first meeting in Philadelphia, in December. Among the New York leaders were Arthur and Lewis Tappan, merchants of high standing and men of well-balanced and admirable character; with them were associated Joshua Leavitt and Elizur Wright. Among the Massachusetts recruits was Whittier. The sixty-four members were largely made up of merchants, preachers, and theological students. Almost all were church members; twenty-one Presbyterians or Congregationalists, nineteen Quakers, and one Unitarian, -Samuel J. May. There was a noticeable absence of men versed in public affairs. The constitution was carefully

drawn to safeguard the society against the imputation of unconstitutional or anarchic tendencies. It declared that the right to legislate for the abolition of slavery existed only in the Legislature of each State; that the society would appeal to Congress to prohibit the interstate slave trade, to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia and the territories, and to admit no more slave States; and that the society would not countenance the insurrection of slaves. Garrison, who had been visiting the Abolitionists in England, was not among the signers of the call to the convention, and the constitution was hardly in the line of his views; but he wrote a declaration of principles which after some debate was adopted. It was impassioned and unsparing; pictured the woes of the slaves and the essential wickedness of the system; denounced compensation and colonization; declared that “all laws admitting the right of slavery are before God utterly null and void ” and “ought instantly to be abrogated"; and called for a universal and unresting agitation.

« AnteriorContinuar »