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PLEAS FOR THE NEGRO.
asked, had not the events of the last few months totally exploded the doctrine of negro labor coming into competition with white ? for this old cry was silenced by the fact that wages were twice as high in Maryland since it had virtually become a free State. To enfranchise the negro must not be construed as meaning equality; propositions to that effect should never be made a part of the constitution. Give the negro equal human rights, of husband and wife, of parent and child. Give him the right to labor, and to receive an equivalent for his labor. Give him the right to educate his children if he could: this would be the true policy for Maryland. When he was sufficiently civilized, and, desiring to take part in the government of the land,—though he knew he never could do so,—then the emigration of the race from the State would begin in a perfect flood tide. Knowing that they never could be received as the equal of the white race, negroes would seek a new country for themselves. This meant simply that the State would grant privileges to the negro for the sake of getting rid of him.
The fears always expressed whenever a State freed a slave, or for a moment thought of giving rights to the negro, were now greater than ever.2 Already a multitude of runaway slaves had come up from the South, and from
1 Debates, p. 111.
2 See the Debates in the New York Constitutional Convention of 1821: in the Missouri controversy, 1820, 1821, an account of which may be found in The Constitutional History of the American People, Vol. I, Chapter IX; in the Constitutional Convention of Pennsylvania, 1838; Louisiana, 1845; in New York and in Iowa in 1846; Wisconsin, 1848; in California, 1849; in Michigan and Maryland, 1850; for a bibliography of the Journals and Debates of these conventions, see my Constitutional History of the American People, 1776-1850, Vol. II, pp. 395, 398; see also an account of public sentiment on the subject of free negroes, Id., pp. 7-9; Michigan, pp. 10-12; California, pp. 408, 447, 499.
DANGER FROM FREE NEGROES.
other parts of the country, and had congregated about Washington. Prince George County was in danger of being overrun. Its white families were in danger. In consequence of the loss of slave labor, a large class of white men in the State were now able to rent land. Let the free negro remain, and the land owners would continue to work their land by his labor; but the poor white man, unable to buy or rent, would have to work at a negro's wage. Maryland would become a second Hayti or Jamaica. The white land owners, and the landless whites, would alike be injured."
But all did not take this view. Adopt a system of emancipation, and the former slave would be in the same condition as the free negro. He would depend upon his own exertions. Old and infirm slaves would remain with kind masters, would perform light services, and be properly cared for in return. Those who left the plantation would come under the laws regulating free negroes, and, therefore, be prevented from lapsing into vagrancy and crime. The language of the emancipation proposed was from the Ordinance of 1787, long familiar to the people of the States, but, if included in the Bill of Rights, it did not prevent some future legislature from reducing the free negroes to slavery. Under the constitution of 1850, the power of disposing of the race rested with the legislature; but that constitution was now to be amended.2 Yet, Maryland should not be blind to the consequences of emancipation; the experience of General Banks in Louisiana might be repeated in Maryland. The State would have over one hundred and eighty thousand free negroes. The restraints of the old laws would be wholly removed; the free men, after a few months' celebration of their
1 Debates, p. 112. 2 Debates, 238.
COST OF EMANCIPATION.
liberty, might not work, save fitfully, but "become an unbearable nuisance and a burden upon the community.” In Louisiana, it had been found necessary for the military authorities to order this class to work, to fix their wages, and to punish them for idleness and vagrancy; therefore, the emancipation clause should be accompanied with a provision that would secure a rigid system of discipline and labor.1
This idea, however, did not meet with favor.? As difficulties in the way were disclosed, the burden of emancipation seemed too great for the State to bear alone, and it was proposed to secure, if possible, a renewal of the President's offer of compensated emancipation. But it was too late; Congress, in 1864, could not restore the offer of 1862; the sentiment of the Nation would not permit it; even the convention itself rejected the idea by a vote of nearly two to one.
The question of abolishing slavery was part of a somewhat new concept of the national government, and of its relation to the States. It was not easy for some of the members to give up the belief that slavery was "the chief corner stone of American government.” They turned instinctively to the South, where a Confederacy, whose fundamental idea was slavery, had been formed, not merely to break away from the old Union, but to extend the slave power southward, where “Tamaulipas and Chihuahua, and other Mexican States, all around the Gulf of Mexico, like pears fully ripe, were waiting to drop into the laps of those ready to gather them.” The Gulf of Mexico
1 Debates, 239.
A SLAVEHOLDER FOR ABOLITION.
should be an inland sea, surrounded by slaveholding States. The picture was an attractive one to a mind educated to believe in slavery, and ignorant, by experience, of any other social condition. Though it was rather late in the day, the members went into a long debate of the merits and demerits of secession, of its constitutionality, its expediency, its experiences, and its future. There were a few secessionists in the convention, but its opinion was fully expressed, when it incorporated in its new constitution the doctrine of paramount allegiance to the national government. So comprehensive of the civil issues of the day, and indeed for all future time, was this question, that the discussion of emancipation was dropped, until the question of sovereignty was settled.
Though our chief interest is in the evolution of political thought in America, expressed from time to time in the action of political bodies, our attention is frequently attracted, during the long debate, to individuals and their utterances. When emancipation was under discussion in Missouri, it was a former slaveholder who made the most eloquent and logical plea for abolition. Here in Maryland, a like plea was made, by a member also long a slaveholder who had become convinced that the future welfare of his State depended upon abolition. His plea was a refutation of all the stock arguments for slavery the authority of the Scriptures; the natural condition of the African; the evident intention of the Creator that the black race should ever be subordinate to the white; the advantage of slavery to the African; its morality, when properly regulated, and the higher civilization, which the system had developed in the South. He contrasted the
1 Debates, 303, et seq.
2 Debates, 538, 552. The speaker was James Valliant, of Talbot County.
JUSTICE TO THE SOUTH.
slaveholding States with the free, showing, as it had been shown fifteen years before, in Kentucky, that the wealth, the prosperity, the influence of a country are ever commensurate with its free labor. In spite of the arguments which, for more than two hundred and fifty years,
had sustained slavery in this country,—and chief of those were the arguments for the rights of property, and, later, the compromises in the national Constitution; in spite of the decisions of courts, the acts of legislatures, and the constitutions of States, the Nation now demanded, and the needs of the State of Maryland made clear, that slavery and involuntary servitude should forever be abolished.
To-day, we can with difficulty, do justice to men, who, born slaveholders, and taught by church and school the sanctity of the institution, yet courageously turned their backs upon their own past and, facing poverty, social and political ostracism and death, advocated the abolition of slavery. It was easy for Wendell Phillips and William Lloyd Garrison to demand emancipation, for they had a different heritage from that of their Southern brethren. It has long been customary to associate negro emancipation with the aggressive conduct of devoted, and as they were called, fanatical men and women at the North, who never owned a slave; but "with malice toward none and with charity for all” we should remember, that the great sacrifices for slavery were made by the loyal men and women of the South. If the thought was Northern, the suffering was Southern, and ere long, was borne by the almost helpless freedmen through a decade of terrorism,
1 Debates, 546, 548. For an account of the contrast drawn in the Kent convention of 1849, see my Constitutional History of the American People, 1776-1850, Vol. II, Chapter VI.