Charles L. (Charles Lemuel) Thompson.

America's misfortune; or, A practical view of slavery online

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Slavery is the most serious subject that has ever
disturbed the peace of our country. The South has
been wedded to the institution for centuries ; and they
who attack it should be actuated by love and guided
by prudence. When the husband sees the wife of his
bosom stricken with a dangerous disease, he suffers no
harsh measures to be taken, but everything is done
with the greatest caution. The union of the I^orth
and the South is most intimate, and most essential
to their mutual welfare. Their soldiers fought side
by side in the struggle which gave us our national
being ; their statesmen have often strengthened each
other's hands in our national councils ; the names of
Adams, Jefferson, Clay, Calhoun, and Webster, will
go down to posterity on one national tablet.

Long cherished friends and children of the same
mother, scattered over the hills and valleys of the

North and the plains of the South, are j^raying for
the peace and perpetuity of that union which is dear
to them ; and those prayers, which none can douht will
be heard in heaven, should not be disregarded.

And yet we believe that every lover of his coun-
try and his race should labor kindly, candidly, and
patiently, for the removal of what is generally consid-
ered a great national evil ; constantly bearing in mind
that almost miraculous intervention is required to over-
throw institutions interwoven with the very framework
of society.

In treating of American slavery, the curse pro-
nounced upon Canaan, and so often adduced in de-
fense of the system, claims our attention at the outset.
We will consider the cause of the curse, and the curse

The crime which drew from the lips of ISToah the
language, " Cursed be Canaan ; a servant of servants
shall he be unto his brethren," was in the sight of
heaven a most heinous one.

There are few sins more severely denounced in the
Bible than filial disrespect. The parent, it has been
truly said, is God's vicegerent upon earth for the gov-
ernment of the child ; and when the latter forgets his
obligation to them, of whose flesh and blood he is par-
taker, his doom is almost irretrievably sealed.

" The eye that mocketh at his fother, and despiseth
to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick
it out, and the young eagles shall eat it" — which lait
guage, though it is figurative, is awfully expressive.
" Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may


be long ii23on the land wliicli the Lord thj God giveth

Premature death is the penalty of disobedience.
That judgment, for so flagrant a crime, should be
visited iiiyon a branch of Ham's posterity forever,
seems by no means improbable.

The results of good and bad conduct are often exhib-
ited almost side by side in the Scriptures, that by the
contrast the beauty of the one and the deformity of the
other may be the more apparent.

God said unto Abraham, "I will be a God unto
thee, and thy seed after thee." Why ? For his faith.
The curse upon Canaan, and the blessing upon Abra-
ham, are placed so near each other that each is ren-
dered especially impressive. As a reward of his piety,
Abraham was to have the honor of being the natural
ancestor of his Saviour. A great honor ! but it fell on
a good man. l^o instance of equal steadfastness of faith
is elsewhere recorded in all God's word. On the other
hand, few crimes therein recorded are as revolting as
that of Ham, and it could proceed only from a heart
of the deepest depravity.

The Bible declares in general, that the " iniquity of
the fathers " shall be visited " upon the children to the
third and fourth generation," but the consequences,
either of great wickedness or remarkable piety, are not
li mited to the fourth generation. " Therefore, the sword
shall not depart from thine house," was the language
addressed to one who, in the hour of temptation, had
abused the power with which he was invested, for a
wicked purpose. '' Jonadab, the son of Rechab, shall


not want a man to stand before me forever," was the
reward of one who had exercised a steady, judicious,
and pious self-control.

It is sometimes objected, that the j^unisnment of
Ham's sin would not be denounced upon his youngest
son. But it is by no means certain that Canaan was
the youngest son of Ham, from the place which his
name occupies among his brethren.

If we read carefully the tenth chapter of Genesis,
we shall see that Japheth was the elder son of jSToah,
while in the ninth chapter his name is placed last.
The name of Jacob is often placed before that of Esau,
where they appear in the same connexion. Other
cases similar are found in the Bible. When a son
was to be highly distinguished, his name was often
placed first, whether the eldest or not. Hence it is
not improbable that Canaan was the eldest son of
Ham, and his name may have been placed last, in
consequence of his degradation. As regards the curse
itself, the connexion plainly implies that it was to be
perpetual. If we were to construe the verse contain-
ing it, and the two succeeding, literally^ we should
entirely destroy the sense, as w^e should make Shem
and Jaj)heth the hrethren of Canaan. '' A servant of
servants shall he be ;" a servant of the lowest grade.
This degradation would seem to imply physical, men-
tal, and moral inferiority. If he who is doomed to
servitude is not physically weaker than his oppressor,
he endures a mere voluntary subjection ; if he is not
mentally weaker, he will either outwit the master, or
by his appeals for relief enlist the sympathies of his


fellow-men, and in one way or the other effect a re-
lease; if he is not morally weaker, he will prodnce an
awe upon his lord, the effects of which it will be im-
possible to resist. But, generally, they who are weak
in one of these points, are in the others also. "What
we have thus far said proves nothing as to who are
the descendants of Canaan. But it is generally be-
lieved, if we mistake not, by biblical scholars and his-
torians, that while the children of Japheth settled the
countries nearest to the original home of man, and the
children of Shem penetrated the east, and founded the
Chinese Empire, the descendants of Ham went south
and peopled Africa. Whether they are correct or not,
we believe that the characteristics which the curse
pronounced upon Canaan would seem to imply, are
essentially those of the African or negro race. The
colored reader, we trust, will bear with us ; for w^hile
we deeply commiserate his unfortunate condition, we
can not forbear to express our honest convictions ; at
the same time we gladly admit that his race have
given instances of virtue and moral worth, well worthy
the imitation of their more favored white brethren.
"Wlierever the colored man is seen in motion, whether
in the field, the shop, or the street, his movements are
usually more slow and languid than those of the white
man ; he seems to have less strength of nerve and
muscle, and less power of endurance. Diseases, as is
generally known, especially those which prevail among
children, are peculiarly fatal to this race. The skin,
which is nature's great shield for the system, is thin-
ner upon the colored race, as they themselves assert,

8 AifERicA's misfortune; or,

than upon all others. That the African, although pos-
sessing greater power of imitation, has less strength
of intellect than the other races, no one can douht who
has had an opportunity for observation.

As regards moral inferiority, although it may be
owing in a measure to ignorance, the judicial records
of communities, composed of both white and colored
people, show the proportion of crime to population to
be largely against the latter. It may be argued, that
long continued degradation in our country is the cause
of this general inferiority which is exhibited. But the
inferiority throughout the world is apparent. The
physical appearance of the negro is the same in all
countries; climate has very little effect upon his color
or features. The full-blooded negro has the same black
skin, curly hair, thick lips, and flat nose, wherever he
is found. That these characteristics were not origin-
ally the effect of the African climate, must be admitted
by every person of candor and intelligence. Some be-
lieve that the color of the African is the mark set upon
Cain ; but as the family of Koah were, after the flood,
the sole inhabitants of the earth, we doubt if this the-
ory can be sustained. On the other hand, it is a sig-
nificant fact, that the literal meaning of the word Ham
is hlacJc. That the mental and moral inferiority of the
colored man is not the result of oppression by the
white race, must be apparent to every one who knows
the barbarous state of the race in Africa. If these
things are so, we see not how their inferior rank
among the nations can be accounted for, otherwise
than as a special divine judgment. If the race are


lower in the scale of being than the other races, we
must admit thai: thev were assigned this position by
the moral Governor of the universe, who does all tilings
in accordance with the dictates of infinite wisdom and
benevolence, and nothing but for reasons which are
sufficient and often apparent.

The ancient Egyptians are sometimes cited as illus-
trating the genius of the colored man ; but the careful
student of history will learn tliat, though hrovon or
svMrthy^ tliey were not a black race. A distinguished
modern traveler informs us, that, upon the relics of
their monuments, the negroid represented as the slave.

The inferiority of the African race is virtually ac-
knowledged by themselves. "VYherever they dwell
among the other races, they seem generally possessed
of an innate consciousness that they are surrounded by
superior beings. Their language and bearing alike in-
dicate this. The more intelligent and worthy, at times,
express a willingness to submit to the allotments of
Providence, and enforce this duty upon their brethren.

Is there any other race possessing the characteristics,
and holding the rank, implied in the language, "A
servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren?"
AVe believe not.

If, therefore, the African race have the characteris-
tics of the curse, and there is no other race having
them ; if they are in a state of subjection in accord-
ance with its spirit, and there is no other race in such
a state, we see not how the conclusion can be avoided,
that they are the recipients of' the curse of the ancient

patriarch, who spoke as he was moved by his Maker;

10 America's misfoetune; oe,

and we regard their degradation as a consequence of
sin, as natural, and as necessary, and as apparent, as
the punishments inflicted upon the rebellious Jews,
and other nations, ancient and modern, at the hand of
those whom God raised up as the executors of his
wrath, and who in turn proved the truth of that scrip-
ture which declares that " the way of the transgressor
is hard.'^

"We believe that American slavery will result in the
highest good of the African race. The enslavement
of a portion of the race in this country has given them
a larger opportunity to acquire the blessings of civili-
zation and Christianity, than without it could ever have
been afforded them by missionary labor upon their
own continent. The slave witnesses our system of
agriculture, manufactures, commerce, education, gov-
ernment, and religion ; and he returns to the land of
his fathers to give his brethren there the benefit of
that knowledge, which, though so dearly bought by
him, is yet invaluable.

That the influence of the small colonies of emanci-
pated slaves upon the coast of Africa is already ap-
parent in that country, none will deny who are
acquainted with the facts. Some will, perhaps, say,
that by this argument it would be praiseworthy to
steal a large portion of the race from their homes in
Africa, and enslave them in enlightened. Christian
America. But we do not deem such a course neces-
sary for the improvement of the whole race. The salo
of Joseph by his brethren to the Ishmaelites, and the se-
vere discipline through which he passed, were the means


of raising him to his high elevation in Egypt, by which
he became a great blessing to his kindred; and the
liistory of the Indians of our comitry shows that a sin-
gle captive, after receiving an education in a Christian
famiW, has sometimes been the means of good to
almost an entire tribe.

We believe that, bad as is slavery, and numerous
and great as are its abuses, and bad as may be the
motives of some by whom it is sustained, the conclu-
sion can not be avoided, that it has been a benevolent
system ; not benevolent on the part of those who in-
troduced it into our country, but in the mind of Him
" who seeth not as man seeth," and who causes " even
the wrath of man to praise Ilim."

The operation of God's laws is the same with the
African race as with all other races. Scarcely a race
or an individual has ever existed, without being com-
pelled to feel sensibly the disciplining hand of a bene-
ficent Creator. War, pestilence, and famine, have
been the scourges of the nations ; and personal and
domestic afflictions none have ever been able to avoid.
These calamities are never sent upon nations or in-
dividuals, till God sees them absolutely essential to
their highest welfare ; and they are seldom sent with-
out ajpijarent good results. Hence, we have no reason
to suppose, that any especial tem2:>orary disadvantage
to which the African race, or a portion of it, may be
subjected, will not ultimately be seen to have been
beneficial. But if any slaveholder quiets his con-
science with the thought that he may wantonly op-
press the descendants of the guilty Ham, he has great

12 America's misfortune; ok,

reason to fear tbe wrath of Ilim wliohas declared that
he will " break in pieces the oppressor."

Some eminent divines in our country deem it neces-
sary, for the full accomplishment of God's purposes,
that American slavery should continue till the millen-
nium. While we have the fullest confidence in their
integrity, we doubt if there is sufficient reason for this
belief. They would free the system from its abuses,
which we believe would be vastly more difficult than
its entire extinction, and less in accordance with the
ordinary methods of God's providence. That the col-
ored race will suffer disadvantage to the end of time,
we do not doubt, but American slavery can not be con-
sidered essential to it.

We have alluded to the abuses of slavery. "Oh,
massa ! for mercy's sake, begin at the other end," was
the language of a slave who was suffering a lingering
and painful death. His master was a sister's son of
one of the early presidents of the United States. This
man and his brother owned plantations near each
other, and both brothers were present at the scene al-
luded to. This slave had often been guilty of running
away, from which, seemingly, no punishment could
deter him ; and at last the patience of the master was
exhausted. It was night, a rousing fire was put on,
and all the slaves upon the plantation were assembled
to see the offender punished. The unfortunate victim
was stretched upon a table, and the master began the
work of execution. Commencing with his feet, he
chopped them off with a large axe provided for the
purpose, and committed them to the flames, warning


the other slaves of the dreadful consequences of run-
ning away; and thus lie proceeded deliberately to
sever and burn the limbs from his body, stopping often
to make such remarks as he deemed suitable to tlie
occasion, till he had completed his work. The poor
slave saw that his time had come, and all that he could
do was to beg in vain that his head might be taken,
and his sufferings terminated with the next stroke.

We believe that such tragedies are rare ; but the
fact that this cruel death was inflicted upon a fellow-
being, by a man of high connexion, shows that where
there is no human law to interfere, the bad passions
of some men have very little restraint ; and in such
cases, the life or the excruciating death of the slave is
a question of but very little importance. There are
few crimes of which the slave can be guilty as heinous,
in the view of the master, as running away, and but
few as severely punished ; and it is doubtless a knowl-
ed<T:e of this that sometimes leads the fuo-itive to com-
niit suicide to avoid capture, and prevents many others
from attempting to escape, who heartily desire it ; for
we believe that there are very few slaves in the south
in whom the image of their Maker is so entirely obliter-
ated that they have no desire to be free.

A few years ago, the ship ''Susan and Sarah" sailed
from a southern port for Boston, and on board was a
slave who had secreted himself, for the purpose of se-
curing his freedom. Unfortunately, he was discovered
while the vessel was yet upon the broad ocean. The
poor fugitive saw at once that his hopes were crushed
for the present, and probably forever.


There is one way only to escape capture, and de-
luded but determined, be chooses what he deems the
least of two evils. In a moment, when he is not
watched, he leaps from the side of the vessel, the
watery grave opens her mouth, and the freed slave
has " gone down to sleep among the corals."

Patrick Henry said, " Give me liberty or give me
death." "Will any one say that there was no similarity
of spirit in the two cases ? Not as long since, an officer
of the customs in Canada, near Niagara Falls, was one
evening perusing in his paper an advertisement for a
very valuable young slave and his wife, who had lately
escaped from their master, and were on their way to
Canada. They were accurately described, and a large
reward was oiTered for their capture. While thus en-
gaged, the gentleman was waited upon by an assistant,
Avho informed him that he thou5>;ht efforts were about
being made to smuggle goods across the" river from the
American shore. The night was a very dark and
stormy one, late in autumn, but he at once went to the
discharge of his duty. They proceeded up the river
to the place where it was supposed the goods would be
landed ; but after waiting a long time to no purpose,
they started for their homes, and when near the ferry,
a little below the Falls, their attention was arrested by
a light upon the American shore. This light pro-
ceeded from a boat, which soon launched forth into the
foaming waters ; and believing this to contain the con-
traband goods, the officer concealed himself near the
landing place, and awaited its approach. It was
manned, apparently, by two men, and as it landed,


and one stepped out, tlie officer suddenly stepped in,
at which the boat shot forth asrain into the ano^ry cur-
rent. It was a fearful moment for them, there being
a fatal whirlpool but a mile or two below, and nothing
.in the boat in the shape of an oar. After much search,
however, a single piece of plank was discovered, with
which they alternately battled against a seemingly
speedy and inevitable death, without considering wdie-
ther their relation was that of friends or foes. At
length, after great exertion, they succeeded in reaching
the shore ; and the reader can, periiaps, imagine what
were the feelings of the officer when he learned that
his comrade was the fugitive of whom he had read in
the early part of the evening. He preferred to brave
with his wife the darkness of the night and the dan-
gers of the river, lashed into fury by the storm, rather
than risk another day on soil where they might be
claimed as slaves.

Fugitives have repeatedly told the writer that it was
their settled determination, when they left the South,
never to be taken alive ; and he has every reason to
l)dieve that they were sincere. A tale of severe afflic-
tion, while on his journey northward, is sometimes told
by the fugitive.

A few years since, a slave — we know not whether
black or white, for he might have been either color —
with his wife bade adieu to slavery, to seek a free home
in the North. The journey was long, and the labors
were too severe for woman's strength. In one of the
forests of Maryland, the sorrowing husband alone wit-
nessed the dying struggles of his companion. Far from

il6 America's MiSFORTrNE ; or,


any human eye, with his own hands he buried her, and
none knew his grief till he arrived in a land of free-
dom, and published his story as another illustration of
the miseries of the slave.

I The desire of the colored man, although free, to live
among white people, is not a matter of surprise ; for,
being accustomed to look to them for protection while
in slavery, he naturally distrusts his ability to provide
for himself; and beside this, it is characteristic of hu-
man nature to desire intercourse with superiors.

In some neighborhoods at the I^orth, composed
entirely of fugitives, they have been found in a state
bordering upon starvation, althougli upon as rich a soil
as could be desired.

We have spoken of the severity vvMth which the cap-
tured fugitive is liable to be punished ; but there are
many other crimes (if such they may be called) of
which slaves are guilty that are punished with death.
Any case which the master deems one of aggravated
insubordination, he may punish with death, at his dis-
cretion. The state of society at the South is such that
this seems almost necessary ; for, as the slaves so
greatly outnumber the free population, if a rebellious
spirit on their part is not crushed at once, tlie commu-
nity are in imminent peril, while waiting the formali-
ties of law. Excessive cruelty to the slave, on the
part of the master, is forbidden, but any action at law
must be at the instigation of a white person, for in none
of the slave States is the slave known in law as a
man — he can not be even a witness against a white
person. If the law could be strictly enforced, the slave


would be much less liable to abase, but this is not to
be expected of any law, the execution of which is left
to man ; and were it to be, in consequence of the
arbitrary power which the slaveholder continually
finds it necessary to exercise, the line between clem-
ency and cruelty must be ver}^ broad. It is sometimes
said that a bad man at the South will abuse his slaves,
as a cruel man at the Korth will abuse his cattle ; and
doubtless this is true, as regards the fact that they are
both exceptions, but w^e believe -that there are few who
will deny that cruelty to a human being is a crime of
much deeper dye in the sight of Jehovah, than cruelty
to a brute. The cruelties practiced, not generally and
by the more worthy class of slaveholders, but occasion-
ally and by the unfeeling, are so well known that we
need not mention them ; we believe that the perpetra-
tors are, almost without exception, men having but
little regard for God or man, and but little knowledge
of human nature, which invariably teaches that kind-
ness is the best policy.

We believe that there has been a wrong impression
at the Xorth with regard to the extent to which the
slaves of our country are ill-treated, extreme cases hav-
ing been taken as the general rule. That they are
sometimes scantily fed and clothed and poorly shel-
tered, and otherwise brutally treated when well, and
neglected when sick, even at this day, after all the
efforts that have been put forth in their behalf, it
would be idle to deny, but we have the best of evi-
dence — that of the slaves themselves — that the mass
are not cruelly treated. Remarkable cases of cruelty

18 America's misfortune; or,

find place in the pa2:)ers, and these are often so com-
mented upon that a tree which is indeed unsightly is
judged by the very worst specimens of its fruit. The
writer has within the last year visited personally hun-
dreds of fugitives in Canada, and talked with many of
them freely in regard to the treatment which they re-
ceived while in slavery, and their motives for leaving

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Online LibraryCharles L. (Charles Lemuel) ThompsonAmerica's misfortune; or, A practical view of slavery → online text (page 1 of 6)