Charles L. (Charles Lemuel) Thompson.

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

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Liberty, like every other choice gift from heaven, is
liable to abuse, and when abused is a most fruitful
source of evil. Restraint is required both for discipline


and instruction. The slaves of our country are, to a
most lamentable degree, intellectually and socially in-
fants. At the South, generally, humiliating as is the
fact, the law has been a barrier between them and
education. In some States, formerly, he who taught
a slave to read did it at the peril of his life. We
believe that there has within the last few years been
a marked change in the Southern feeling upon this
point, although comparatively little has as yet been
effected. To every prudent person the policy of giving
three millions of slaves their freedom at once, must
seem to involve a great risk of their own well-being.
The parent, whose child is compelled to go forth into
the world before arriving at full maturity^ feels a deep
apprehension for his welfare. The slave, it is true,
has more physical strength than the child, but mis-
guided or uncontrolled power is in all cases a detri-
ment to its possessor. An affrighted horse, running
without restraint through our streets, not unfrequently
pursues his course till by some obstruction he is sud-
denly killed, or prostrated upon the earth. An un-
caged bird Hies till all knowledge of its locality is lost,
and return is impossible. A blind man, groping his
way in the dark upon a strange road, falls in the ditch.
The ill success, which we shall see hereafter has often
attended the efforts of the colored man in Canada,
proves that these illustrations are not unfair.

It requires little argument to show that the interests
of the North would not be promoted by immediate
emancipation. Great as are the disadvantages to the
free States of being sensibly within the influence of


slavery, and of being compelled to share the support
and the odium, they by no means desire to abolish one
evil at the risk of a greater. Society at the North
could not fail to be more or less injured by the admis-
sion of the colored element ; for there is no part of th(
ISTorth to which the colored man would not find his
way, if restraint were removed. We believe that
there are very few who will dispute us when we say
that a policy, whose legitimate and inevitable tendency
would be to greatly increase amalgamation, with all
its attendant evils, can never meet with general favor
at the Xorth.

There are, however, very few in the free States who
are not anxious that the abolition of slavery may
be accomplished as speedily as is consistent with the
highest interests of the country ; and a very large
majority would gladly see the work commenced at
once. But the nature of the evil, and the most efiec-
tual remedy, have never been sufficiently considered ;
for zeal, unaccompanied by discretion, can be of but
little value.

The odium which was formerly attached to sympathy
for the slave has almost entirelj^ passed away ; and he
who now defends slavery at the I^orth is nearly or quite
as unpopular as was he who, at the commencement of
the anti-slavery agitation, spoke against it; and we
believe that this movement has effected not a little in
loosing its hold upon the country. The sympathies
of the educated and influential generally, not less than
of the masses, are enlisted in behalf of the oppressed.
One of the most distinguished of American writers, in


a late lecture before a literary association, uses lan-
gnag-e to the following effect: "Let every man put
his hand to the work, and labor till slavery in our
country shall be extinct. Let each contribute accord-
ing to his ability. Let the merchant and the banker
aid by giving of their money. Let the man of talent
and education aid with the tongue or the pen ; for of
what value is the talent of our country if it may not be
used for the removal of this mighty evil ? "

This language is well worthy of regard, but had it
been used by the same author thus publicly twenty
years since, ignominy and contempt would have been
the sure result.

Xegro emigration to Canada is now becoming a
matter of much importance. This emigration com-
menced many years since ; but of the thirty-five to
forty thousand fugitives now in that country, nearly two
thirds have gone there since the enactment of the late
Fugitive Slave Law. Many of these were not directly
from slavery, but had been living in the Western
States, where this law rendered them insecure. They
have settled almost entirely in Upper Canada — or
Canada WesU as it is now termed — and mainly in the
western part of the Province, in the counties bordering
upon the lakes Erie and St. Clair, and adjacent to
Ohio and Michigan, their route usually lying through
one of those States. They are constantly arriving,
both from the free and the slave States ; and, judging
from our own observation, the law alluded to has few
terrors for the fugitive, who has started with the de-
termination to be free or die. In some towns, the

66 America's misfortune; oe,

arrivals number from twelve to twenty in a single day.
The writer has recently spent nearly a year in Canada,
much of the time in the midst of these fugitives ; and
the nature of his business rendering it necessary to call
upon a large number of their families, afforded a rare
opportunity to learn their real condition and feelings.
We shall state facts, and leave the reader, in a good
measure, to his own conclusions. In advocating emi-
gration to any country, two questions present them-

The first, " Will the emigrant be kindly received ? "
The second, " If the}^ are not thus received, will this
emigration be a benefit to them ? "

That the influx of a large colored population upon a
territory previously, but sparsely settled by white
people, should be viewed at least with jealous?/ by the
latter, is a most natural conclusion. It may be said
that in this case the British Constitution makes no dis-
tinction of race or color ; experience, however, teaches
that what is written on paper is of little account
when it is not in accordance with the natural feelings
of man. The colored man in Canada at present is re-
garded, not merely with jealousy, but with a strong
and continually increasing aversion. In some town-
ships this is so strong that if he attempts to settle he
will be yery sure of being driven out by violence. The
white population have felt this evil so seriously of late
that they have besought the Provincial Parliament to
prohibit colored emigration. Fugitives in Canada
render themselves obnoxious to the white population
in many w^ays. They seek the equality which nature


lias denied tliem, almost everywhere: in the schools,
the churches, and in general society. The mother of
some bright, interesting children, on one occasion
remarked to iis, in substance, '' I am obliged to send
my daughters away from home to attend school, for in
our own there are many colored children ; and if white
and black mingle in our schools, and grow up together,
they will eventually intermarry — the thought of which
is almost intolerable to me."

Many others made a similar complaint, and we know
that there are very many beside who have the same
feelings. Where it is by any means practicable, the
colored children are required, although greatly in
opposition to the wishes of their parents, to attend
separate schools. But in many cases this is not possi-
ble ; and the white population are compelled to suffer
in silence. In the churches, the line has been more
distinctly drawn ; and a colored person is very rarely
seen in the same house of worship with white people,
unless employed as sexton, or in a similar capacity.
This arrangement, however, causing much dissatisfac-
tion to the colored man, has not been effected without
great difficulty. The slave is led to believe that if he
can reach Canada, he will be on an equality with the
white inhabitants, because his civil disability will
there be removed ; and it is often a difficult matter to
undeceive him, and teach him that privileges which
were granted him in the free States will there be
denied him.

But society in Canada, we are compelled to say, suf-
fers more from the viciousness of many of the fugitives

68 amekica's misfortune; or,

than from their claims of equality. It is not a matter
of sm-prise that this should manifest itself on the part
of those formerly so debased. In communities where
they are greatly in the minority, a large proportion of
the petty thefts are committed by colored people.
They seem, in many cases, almost possessed of the
idea that freedom will put bread in their mouths with
little exertion on their part ; and that if they can
obtain a livelihood by pilfering, there is very little
motive to labor for it. Beside this propensity, drunk-
enness, Sabbath breaking, and petty quarrels, are not
uncommon ; and a strict regard for truthfulness is
little known.

It is sometimes argued that the English forced
our slaves upon us, and ought not now to object to
receiving them within their own dominions. Setting
aside the fact that ouglit is a word never as much
regarded as it should be, we believe that this is not
sound reasoning. If the crew of an English vessel
had murdered at sea the crew of a smaller American
vessel, the latter would hardly be justified, centuries
afterward, in murdering a similar number of defense-
less Englishmen. And we believe that our country
is no more justified in forcing the colored man to seek
a home in Canada ; but rather less, for many of the
inhabitants of Canada who are injured by this emigra-
tion are not of British birth.

As regards the second question, we believe that any
candid person who will examine thoroughly into the
condition of the colored population of Canada, will
admit that the emigration of the colored man from a


tolerable home in the South to that country involves
more or less risk of his welfare. The fugitive is
usually, when he arrives in Canada, disappointed in
his new home ; and to any man, the crushing of long
cherished hopes is an injury. In every part of the
United States, white and colored meet more or less in
the same church ; and, in the North, quite frequently
in the same school and the same lecture room ; and
when the fugitive finds that in Canada, which has
been the land of his dreams, and the goal of all his
aspirations, he is generally regarded as an intruder
wherever he goes, a heavy cloud settles upon his pros-
pects, which just now seemed so bright. The circum-
stances attending the colored man's emigration to
Canada render this disappointment inevitable, for he
has had no opportunity for correct information relative
to tlie country. The slave's idea of freedom in Can-
ada is almost as vague as the Mohammedan's idea of
heaven. They are alike deceived in regard to the
good which they would •grasp, and alike unprepared
for it. We are driven to this conclusion, after wit-
nessinc: the discontent of the Canadian fusritives. A
colored woman, young and active, told the writer that
she would willingly be the slave of her former mistress
if she would come to that country ; her only reason
for leaving her was the fear of being sold in case of
her death. She acknowledged that her ideas of free-
dom were vague and indistinct ; that there was a charm
in the name, which in her case the reality did not war-
rant. Her statements were not unlike those of many
others. A very intelligent woman, nearly white,

70 America's misfortxhste ; oe,

although in a colored settlement, stated that many had
told her, that if they could act their own pleasure they
would gladly return to slavery.

At the commencement of the colored emigration to
Canada, efforts, many and noble, were put forth in be-
half of the fugitive. Missionaries, sustained by benev-
olent individuals and societies, were stationed in diffe-
rent localities, and around them were gathered the fugi-
tives. These settlements seemed prosperous for a time ;
but owing to the incompetency of some of their man-
agers, and the unfaithfulness of others, they lost, in a
great measure, the confidence of those who had for-
merly supported them. And had not this been the
case it is doubtful whether a similar provision could
have been made for all who have now gone there. The
great mass of the fugitives now in Canada are scat-
tered among the white inliabitants, with very few
beside themselves to take an interest in their welfare,
there being but three or four settlements of the kind
alluded to. These, we believe, are doing a great
amount of good, being in the charge of faithful and
energetic men, who have profited much by experience.
Churches, school-houses, mills, and all other necessary
public edifices have been erected; and the communi-
ties generally are in a prosperous condition, as regards
enterprise, education and morality. One of these
settlements, which the writer visited, numbers one
thousand persons, and is continually receiving addi-
tions. The new comer at once locates himself upon a
new lot and commences its improvement, receiving
only advice gratis, and stipulating to pay for his land


as soon as possible. This course the superintendent
judged, and we believe wisely, to be better than any
other; and indeed tlie only one by which the fugitive
can be raised to independence.

The fact that the white and colored races are not
fitted for each other's society, by no means justifies the
exercise of au overbearing spirit, on the part of the
former, toward the unfortunate being who has sought
to improve his condition by fleeing from bondage ; for
no man can disregard the golden rule, with reference
to any of his brethren, without incurring the severe
disj^leasure of his Maker. And yet we can not expect
that this rule will be fully observed in the present
sinful state of mankind; and duty to himself requires
every man to act always in view of this fact, and to
avoid that society which will probably be injurious to
him. If the fugitive were to receive the kindest treat-
ment from his white neighbor in Canada, we believe
that even his presence would be a decided injury to
him. 'No man can be continuall}^ in the presence of
those acknowledged and felt to be superior to himself
without an embarrassment more or less painful. No
child can commit or repeat a lesson, or perform any
difficult task, as well in the presence of older persons
as in their absence. In the settlements alluded to, the
colored man is in a great measin-e removed from white
society; and he haswidescoj^e to develop his powers,
with few, if any, to awe or oppress him; and his
efforts to rise rarely fiiil of being crowned with abund-
ant success. Every one who doubts whctlier it is an
advantage for people of color to be iu a connnuuit}' by

72 America's misfortune; ok,

themselves, should visit these settlements, and con-
trast the condition of the fugitives there gathered vrith
that of others around who are scattered promiscuously
among white people. Slaveholders should visit them,
and be made to realize that the beings whom they are
holding in bondage are possessed of noble aspirations,
and as really — whether to the same extent or not —
capable of improvement as any other race upon the
globe. The philanthropic should visit them, and, wit-
nessing: the lovina: zeal and devotion there manifested
by those who preside and direct, receive a new im-
pulse in their efforts to alleviate human suffering.

The gentleman who superintends the establishment
visited was formerly a slaveholder; and his removal
from a life of ease and affluence in the South to the
wilds of Canada is a grateful and striking instance of
heroic benevolence ; and the spirit which prompted it
was not unlike that which brought our Pilgrim Fathers
to a western wilderness where conscience should be
unmolested. Ills settlement, and the others similar,
may yet, through the agency of enemies, who are not
few, experience disaster and even defeat ; for success in
this world is never a measure of merit, and the best
schemes are liable to failure. But if they were all to
be swept away the present year, this would not anni-
hilate the good wdiich has already been done, nor
prove that the enterprise is not a noble one. Climate
is in this case an obstacle to success, which can not be
removed. The climate of the western portion of Can-
ada is not a healthy one, even for the white popula-
tion, for as in that section of the country, generally,


ague, chill fever, and other diseases of a bilious nature
are very prevalent. The colored man is peculiarly
sensitive to these diseases ; and in localities where it
was difficult to procure medical aid, colored children
have sometimes been swept away in large numbers.
Beside this, in any part of Canada the climate is much
colder than in most of the Southern States ; and the
colored man not unfrequently suffers severely in con-

But a somewhat hostile climate is not, we believe,
as great an evil as slavery; and if it were practicable,
it would doubtless be an advantage to the slaves of
our country, generally, to be removed to Canadian
settlements of the kind described above.

A brief examination of African colonization is here
demanded. This work, although it has attracted little
notice, has, we believe, effected much good. Its be-
ginnings were feeble and inauspicious. But it has
been constantly enlarging the sphere of its operations
and increasing the number of its friends. It may not
be amiss to notice, at the outset, those objections to the
system which have been urged so strenuously, and
which have greatly hindered its progress. It has been
said that the colored man is forced from his native
country against his will, as he was originally stolen
from his home in Africa ; that the climate to which he
is sent is an uncongenial one ; that they are mainly
the aged and infirm who are sent, the system thus
strengthening slavery ; that, as slaveholders were the
prime movers in this work, so they have ever been
its firmest supporters ; and that, despite all efforts in

74: America's misfortune; or,

this direction, the number of slaves in the country has
been continually and rapidly increasing.

As regards the first objection, we believe that the
remark of an eminent writer, that " life is but a choice
of evils," is equally true of all classes. If it is plain
that a class in any country will ultimately be greatly
benefitted by emigrating to a foreign land, the disad-
vantages attending such removal ought surely to be
overlooked. If the oppressed of Europe did not take
a similar view of things, how many of them would
ever seek refuge in America ? Those who have been
slaves, and whose authority should be sufficient on this
point, state that the slave prefers emigrating to Africa
to remaining in slavery ; and it is well known that
many free colored people have gone voluntarily to the
land of their fathers. These facts prove that this is
not a matter of compulsion.

That the climate of Africa is not, with proper care,
an unhealthy one for the colored emigrant from this
country, is sustained by abundant evidence. One
who has returned to this country, much pleased with
a residence there, states that the acclimating fever is
not severe, where medical advice is regarded ; and
that other diseases are rare among the prudent.

We regard such testimony as highly valuable, cor-
roborating as it does a great amount from other
sources to the same eflect. A year or two since, of
four hundred sent to Liberia during the year, at its
end all were alive but sixteen.

The assertion that the emigrants have generally
been past labor, will have little weight with those


who know that in most cases slaveholders who have
given any of their slaves for this purpose have given
all in their possession.

The fact that slaveholders have been much inter-
ested in this work ought not to render it odious.
The intemperate man deeply deplores, in his sober
moments, the strength of that appetite which is work-
ing his ruin, and often wishes that alcoholic drinks
were placed forever beyond his reach ; but will any
say that this is an argument against temperance
effort? At the present day, it is almost superfluous
to adduce proof that a large number of slaveholders
earnestly protest against the system, and are anxious
to be rid of it. Fugitives assure us that they would
gladly hail any plan for its abolition which would be
safe and expedient; and their testimony only confirms
a vast amount to the same effect, both from l^orthern
travelers and the Southern press.

That colonization has as yet effected little, compared
with what it contemplates, is true ; and its early history
is not, in this respect, unlike that of many of the noblest
enterprises that have ever blessed our world. The Pil-
grim Fathers toiled and suffered many years to establish
a firm foundation for religious liberty in the wilds of a
new continent. They had to contend with cold, hunger
and sickness ; they were far from home and friends,
surrounded by savage beasts, and scarcely less savage
men. Where now would have been our happy New
England, if, after a few brief struggles, they had yielded
to despondency, and returned to lives and deaths of
ignominy in the mother country? Immediate success

in any enterprise is almost sure to dazzle the eyes and
exhaust the energies of those engaged, before anything
permanent has been effected ; and it is always regarded
with more or less suspicion by the prudent. Slow
progress at first is almost invariably an omen of good.
The infant requires a long time, after leaving the arms
of the mother, to acquire sufficient strength and skill
to walk steadily and safely ; and long and patient toil
is afterwards required to gain so thorough a knowl-
edge of the rudiments of language that it may be read
with ease. It is not because African colonization has
not o^iven reasonable satisfaction to its friends that it
has not accomplished more ; but it is owing mainly to
the fact that the great distance of its field of operations
renders it impossible to show wliat has been done.

Men usually require demonstration of the good re-
sults before giving any enterprise their cordial sup-
port ; and we can not wonder that where this is not
possible they are very sparing of their patronage.

We believe that there is no place upon the globe
where the colored xlmerican may be so entirely un-
trammelled in every respect, or have as powerful
motives to elevate himself, as in Africa. In that land
there is no white race to clog his aspirations, or hinder
the full development of all his powers — no stately
tree in whose shade the puny plant must droop and
wither — but he is surrounded by those of his own race
and color, and in a condition in many respects similar
to his own. The colored man has here, as motives to
effort, both the improvement of himself and of the
degraded around him.


Man is seldom sunk so low that he has no desire to
rise. But there are cases, as in that of the American
slave, where the obstacles are so numerous and so
great, that all his attempts will be nearly or quite in
vain. If, however, restraint is removed, he rises
gradually and surely, like the eagle long confined to
the earth, but still able to perceive the sun. The
position occupied by our race, in this country, is a
model ever present to the mind of the emancipated
slave in his distant home; and although it may be
beyond his attainment, it is a perpetual stimulus to
excellence. Our theory is confirmed by the testimony
of the immortal Ashmun, who fell a victim to his zeal
in this noble work. We would by no means send the
colored man to Africa till he has been more or less
trained in habits of self-reliance; for this we believe
indispensable to his success.

[Since writing the above, we have conversed with a
colonist who has returned for his family, who testifies
nearly the same as the one above alluded to, in regard
to climate ; also, that several of the colonists are now
wealthy; that the natives when kindly treated are
friendly, often giving up their children to the colonists
as their own ; and that generally the emigrant has a
good prospect before him, who goes provided with a
small amount of means, this being an essential condi-

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Online LibraryCharles L. (Charles Lemuel) ThompsonAmerica's misfortune; or, A practical view of slavery → online text (page 5 of 6)