« AnteriorContinuar »
sullied, and dishonored, by barely tolerating slavery: but when it is found, that your laws give every possible encouragement to its continuance to the latest generations, and are ingenious to prevent even its slow and gradual decline, how is the die of the imputation deepened? It may even be thought, that our late glorious struggle for liberty, did not originate in principle, but took its rise from popular caprice, the rage of faction, or the intemperance of party. Let it be remembered, Mr. Speaker, that, even in the days of feudal barbarity, when the minds of men were unexpanded by that liberality of sentiment, which springs from civilization and refinement, such was the antipathy, in England, against private bondage, that, so far from being studious to stop the progress of emancipation, the courts of law, (aided by legislative connivance,) were inventive to liberate by construction. If, for example, a man brought an action against his villain, it was presumed, that he designed to manumit him; and, although perhaps this presumption was, in ninety-nine instances out of a hundred, contrary to the fact, yet, upon this ground alone, were bondmen adjudged to be free.
Sir, I sincerely wish it were in my power to impart my feelings, upon this subject, to those who hear me; they would then acknowledge, that, while the owner was protected in the property of his slave, he might, at the same time, be allowed to relinquish that property to the unhappy subject, whenever he should be so inclined. They would then feel, that denying this privilege was repugnant to every principle of humanity
an everlasting stigma on our government-an act of unequalled barbarity, without a color of policy, or a pretext of necessity, to justify it.
Sir, let gentlemen put it home to themselves, that after Providence has crowned our exertions, in the cause of general freedom, with success, and led us on to independence, through a myriad of dangers, and in defiance of obstacles crowding thick upon each other, we should not so soon forget the principles upon which we fled to arms, and lose all sense of that interposition of heaven, by which alone we could have been saved from the grasp of arbitrary power. We may talk of liberty in our public councils; and fancy, that we feel reverence for her dictates. We
declaim, with all the vehemence of animated rhetoric, against oppression, and flatter ourselves, that we detest the ugly monster, but so long as we continue to cherish the poisonous weed of partial slavery among us, the world will doubt our sincerity. In the name of heaven, with what face can we call ourselves the friends of equal freedom, and the inherent rights of our species, when we wantonly pass laws inimical to each; when we reject every opportunity of destroying, by silent, imperceptible degrees, the horrid fabric of individual bondage, reared by the mercenary hands of those from whom the sacred flame of liberty received no devotion?
Sir, it is pitiable to reflect, to what wild inconsistencies, to what opposite extremes we are hurried, by the frailty of our nature. Long have I been convinced, that no generous sentiment of which the human heart is capable, no elevated passion of the soul that dignifies mankind, can obtain a uniform and perfect dominion: to-day we may be aroused as one man, by a wonderful and unaccountable sympathy, against the lawless invader of the rights of his fellow-creatures : to-morrow we may be guilty of the same oppression, which we reprobated and resisted in another. Is it, Mr. Speaker, because the complexion of these devoted victims is not quite so delicate as ours; is it because their untutored minds, (humbled and debased by the hereditary yoke,) appear less active and capacious than our own; or, is it, because we have been so habituated to their situation, as to become callous to the horrors of it, that we are determined, whether politic or not, to keep them, till time shall be no more, on a level with the brutes ? For “nothing,” says Montesquieu, “so much assimilates a man to a brute, as living among freemen, himself a slave.” Call not Maryland a land of liberty ; do not pretend, that she has chosen this country as an asylum—that here she has erected her temple, and consecrated her shrine, when here, also, her unballowed enemy holds his hellish pandæmonium and our rulers offer sacrifice at his polluted altar. The lily and the bramble may grow in social proximity, but liberty and slavery delight in separation.
Sir, let us figure to ourselves, for a moment, one of these unhappy victims more informed than the rest, pleading, at the bar of this House, the cause of himself and his fellow-sufferers; what would be the language of this orator of nature ? Thus, my imagination tells me he would address us.
“ We belong, by the policy of the country, to our masters; and submit to our rigorous destiny; we do not ask you to divest them of their property, because we are conscious you have not the power; we do not entreat you to compel an emancipation of us or our posterity, because justice to your fellow-citizens forbids it; we only supplicate you not to arrest the gentle arm of humanity, when it may be stretched forth in our behalf; nor to wage hostilities against that moral or religious conviction, which may at any time incline our masters to give freedom to us, or our unoffending offspring, not to interpose legislative obstacles to the course of voluntary manumission. Thus shall you neither violate the rights of your people, nor endanger the quiet of the community, while
your public councils, from the imputation of cruelty and the stigma of causeless, unprovoked oppression. We have never,” would he argue, “ rebelled against our masters; we have never thrown your government into a ferment by struggles to regain the independence of our fathers. We have yielded our necks submissive to the yoke, and, without a murmur, acquiesced in the privation of our native rights. We conjure you, then, in the name of the common parent of mankind, reward us not, for this long and patient acquiescence, by
shutting up the main avenues to our liberation, by witholding from us the poor privilege of benefitting by the kind indulgence, the generous intentions of our superiors."
What could we answer to arguments like these? Silent and peremptory, we might reject the application; but no words could justify the deed.
In vain should we resort to apologies, grounded on the fallacious suggestions of a cautious and timid policy. I would as soon believe the incoherent tale of a schoolboy, who should tell me he had been frightened by a ghost, as that the grant of this permission ought in any degree to alarm us. Are we apprehensive, tha these men will become more dangerous, by becoming free? Are we alarmed, lest, by being admitted to the enjoyment of civil rights, they will be inspired with a deadly enmity against the rights of others? Strange, unaccountable paradox! How much more rational would it be, to argue, that the natural enemy of the privileges of freemen, is he who is robbed of them himself! In him the foul demon of jealousy converts the sense of his own debasement into a rancorous hatred for the more auspicious fate of others; while from him, whom you have raised from the degrading situation of a slave, whom you have restored to that rank, in the order of the universe, which the malignity of his fortune prevented him from attaining before, from such a man, (unless his soul be ten thousand times blacker than his complexion, you may reasonably hope for all the happy effects of the warmest gratitude and love.
Sir, let us not limit our views to the short period of a life in being; let us extend them along the continuous line of endless generations yet to come, how will the millions, that now teem in the womb of futurity, and whom your present laws would doom to the curse of perpetual bondage, feel the inspiration of gratitude to those, whose sacred love of liberty shall have opened the door to their admission within the pale of freedom? Dishonorable to the species is the idea, that
they would ever prove injurious to our interests. Released from the shackles of slavery, by the justice of government, and the bounty of individuals, the want of fidelity and attachment, would be next to impossible.
Sir, when we talk of policy, it would be well for us to reflect, whether pride is not at the bottom of it; whether we do not feel our vanity and self-consequence wounded at the idea of a dusty African, participating, equally with ourselves, in the rights of human nature, and rising to a level with us, from the lowest point of degradation. Prejudices of this kind, sir, are often so powerful, as to persuade us, that whatever countervails them, is the extremity of folly, and that the peculiar path of wisdom, is that which leads to their gratification. But it is for us to be superior to the influence of such ungenerous motives; it is for us to reflect, that whatever the complexion, however ignoble the ancestry, or uncultivated the mind, one universal father gave being to them and us; and, with that being, conferred the unalienable rights of the species. But
I have heard it argued, that if you permit a master to manumit his slaves by his last will and testament, as soon as they discover he has done so, they will destroy him, to prevent a revocation-never was a weaker de. fence attempted, to justify the severity of persecution; never did a bigoted inquisition condemn a heretic to torture and to death, upon grounds less adequate to justify the horrid sentence. Sir, is it not obvious, that the argument applies equally against all devices whatsoever, for any person's benefit? For, if an advantageous bequest is made, even to a white man, has he not the same temptation, to cut short the life of his benefactor, to secure and accelerate the enjoyment of the benefit ?
As the universality of this argument renders it completely nugatory, so is its cruelty palpable, by its being more applicable to other instances, to which it has never been applied at all, than to the case under consideration.