Elias Hicks.

Letters of Elias Hicks: including also Observations on the slavery of the Africans and their descendants, and on the use of the produce of their labor online

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Bequest of

Frederic Bancroft










GUr\C A.


Entered, according to the Act, of Congress, in the year 1834, by Isaac T.
HoppEH, in the Clerk's office of s«*8 Ihetrici Court of the Soutliern Distnct of
New York.


In presenting to the public this volume from the pen of Elias
Hicks, it is proper to observe, that it might have been much enlarged
by the addition of many other letters ; but, we believe, that those
contained in the present collection, are sufficient to give a pretty full
exposition of the views of the writer on the various subjects of which
they treat, and which comprehend the most important doctrines of
the Christian religion : and though sentiments may, perhaps, be found
in it, that may appear new to some, yet, we think, upon an attentive
examination, they will be found in accordance with the Scriptures of
truth and the doctrines of our most approved and enlightened primi-
tive Friends ; and we think, too, that the long life of unsullied in-
tegrity and fervent piety of the writer, claims for them a close and
impartial examination. Most of these letters were written to his in-
timate friends, without any expectation, so far as appears, that they
would ever be made public ; the candid reader will, therefore, readily
admit in this fact, a sufficient apology, if the writer has not always been
as successful in elucidating some points, as might have been desired.
Another circumstance should be noticed. Most of the letters con-
tained in this volume, were answers to letters received, which not
being in our possession, we have not been able to state the questions
that elicited his replies ; and hence some things in the latter may
appear to require explanations which, probably, they would not have
been thought to want, had those questions been published at the same
time. To this we add, that if the reader should discover some things
which may appear ambiguous, or objectionable, we think he will find
the same subjects more fully and satisfactorily explained in other
parts of the work.


In giving publicity to the opinions and doctrinal views of Ellas
Hicks, as exhibited in this work, we believe we shall be doing a
public service, and at the same time gratify many of his friends.

The contents of this volume have been carefully transcribed from
letters, or papers, in the hand-writing of the author, with the excep-
tion of a very few, which have been taken from copies, either written
or printed.

The author appears fully to have believed, that the doctrines pro-
mulgated in them, were opened to his understanding by that Divine
life which is the light of men; but, the reader must be left to form
his conclusions from the light and evidence in his own mind.

New York, 2d mo. 1834.





[This Essay was first published in the year 18U, after having been approved by
the Meeting for Sufferings.]


Whereas, I some time past published certain observations on the Slavery
of the Africans and their descendants, and on the consumption of the produce of
their labour, comprehended principally in nineteen dueries and Answers, the
design of which was to impress on the minds of my friends and fellow-citizens,
and others concerned, as far as might be, by fair reasoning, a full sense of the
abhorrent cruelty and unrighteousness of holding our fellow creatures in
bondage, and wresting from them, by violence, the produce of their labour ;
which being well received by many, and affording reason to hope they were
profitable to some, I was induced to believe a second edition might be

I have, therefore, revised the original, and endeavoured to compress it as
much as the subjects would admit ; and have added some quotations from an
anonymous pamphlet, published some time since in England, which are so
correspondent with the before mentioned observations, as to have a tendency,
in my opinion, to elucidate and enforce them.

I shall only add, as a farther apology for the present edition, that the evil
still continues : that there are still slave holders, and consumers of the nro-
duce of the labour of slaves, wrested from them by violence.

And as the slave holder can have no moral right whatever to the man he
styles his slave, nor to the produce of his labour, he cannot possibly convey
any to a second person by any transfer he can make: for, having nothing but
a criminal possession himself, he can convey nothing to a second person but
the same possession : and should this possession be continued throagh a line
of transfer to the twentieth person, still it would be nothing more than the same
criminal possession that was vested in the first possessor, and would convev
no moral right whatever. And should any other person come forward, and,
by the same mode of violence and power that was exercised by the first pos-
sessor, in reducing the man he styles his slave to the abject state of slavery,
and by which he violently took from him the produce of his labour, forcibly
take from such twentieth or more remote possessors, the slave and the pro-
duce of his labour, the right of such person, in point of equity, to such slave
and the produce of his labour would be just equal to the right of such remote


possessor ; as neither of them could have had any more than a criminal
possession : and whether that possession is obtained by violence or by transfer,
(if the person who receives it by transfer is informed of the criminal circum-
stance,) it can make no possible difference, except that one is protected by the
indulgence of a partial law of the country we live in, and the other is not.
By which undeniable proposition, it appears, that when any man becomes
possessed of a slave, or the produce of his labour, wrested from him without
his consent, whether it be by transfer or otherwise, any other person who has
power so to do, may, by violence, take from such possessor, such slave and
tae produce of his labour: and when he has in that way obtained possession
mereof, he has as good a right to such slave and to use the produce of his
^abour as the former ; and the former can have no just cause to complain of
such usage, as he is only paid in his own coin. For, although the first pos-
sessor committed the act of violence, when he took from the man he styles his
slave his liberty, and compelled him to work, and by the same cruel force,
took from him the produce of his labour ; yet, every purchaser of such slave
and the produce of his labour, if he is apprized of the criminal circumstance
attending it, is as guilty as the first perpetrator : and should such slave and
the produce of his labour pass through the hands of twenty persons, all
Knowing at the time of transfer the criminal circumstances attending, ea^h
would be guilty of the entire crime of the first perpetrator. This bein?
assented to, and I conceive it is incontrovertible, I have a hope that this
edition may produce a good effect, and tend to raise up many more faithful
advocates in the cause of this deeply oppressed people, who may be willing
»o suffer every necessary privation, rather than be guilty of the least thing
.,nat may, in any degree, possibly strengthen the hands of their oppressors. I
therefore recommend this little treatise to the candid and impartial considera-
iioaof the reader, and subscribe myself his sincere friend,



The slavery of the Africans and their descendants, has
become so established by long continuance, and the force of
an unrighteous custom, that many persons consider the prac-
tice not only admissible, but consistent with justice and social

But I am led to doubt the possibility of any rational, moral
person being thus circumstanced, unless he is first greatly
blinded by selfishness and partiality ; as I consider it a matter
of fact, obviously clear to every rational, contemplative mind,
that neither custom nor education, nor any law of men or
nations, can alter the nature of justice and equity; which
will and must, essentially and eternally, rest upon their own
proper base, as laid down by the great Christian Lawgiver,
viz. "Therefore, all things, whatsoever ye would that men
should do to you, do ye even so to them : for tliis is the law
and the prophets." Hence, I conceive, it is a most necessary
and important christian duty, for all those who are either
directly or indirectly concerned in the slavery of their fellow
creatures, seriously and impartially to consider the manner
and way in which the slavery of the Africans was first intro-
duced ; and by what means it has been so 'long continued ;
not doubting, but that every upright, impartial mind, by a full
examination into the subject, will readily discover, that it was
first introduced by fraud and force, and continued by an unjust
and tyrannical power : and will, therefore, be induced to restore
to them their just and native rights, as free men, which no
law nor power of men or nations ought to deprive them of
without their consent.

It is generally acknowledged, by the people of every



enlightened country, and particularly by those who believe
in revelation, as testified of in the Scriptures of Truth, that
man is a moral agent, (that is, free to act, with the restriction
of accountability to his Creator,) agreeably to the declaration
of the prophet Ezekiel ; through whom, Jehovah, in his
benignity and justice, claims the right of sovereignty over
the children of men : " All souls are mine ; as the soul of the
father, so also the soul of the son is mine : the soul that sinneth,
it shall die : the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father,
neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son !" This
Scripture testimony, perfectly consonant with reason and jus-
tice, not only proves, that every man is to bear his own ini-
• quity, but that he also stands fully indemnified thereby, from
all the iniquity of his predecessors ; and likewise fully estab-
lishes man's free agency : and, of course, proves, that every
moral agent born into the world, (whatever the conduct and
situation of his parents may have been) is born free : upon
which undeniable truth, I shall found the following Queries
and Answers :

Query 1. Were not the people of Africa, at the time wh-en
the Europeans first visited their coasts, a free people, possessed
of the same natural and unalienable rights, as the people of
any other nation ?

Answer. They certainly were : for, when the Europeans,
whether by fraud or force, or by purchase from those who had
stolen or taken them prisoners in war, became possessed of a
number of the people of Africa, and by violence reduced them
to the wretched and degraded state of Slaves ; at the same
time it would have been as right and as consistent with equity
and moral justice, for the Africans to have done the same by
them, had it been in their power : by which undeniable propo-
sition, it is evident, that the slavery of .the Africans is the pro-
duct of mere power, Avithout any possible plea of right : and
that the same power of force, fraud, and tyrannical cruelty, that
was exercised in reducing the people of Africa at first, to the
miserable and wretched state of slaves, has, in like manner, in
a continual state of war, been exercised on all the descendants


of those unhappy people that are held as slaves, from genera-
tion to generation, down to the present day: it being an
undeniable truth, that no rational creature can be any longer
a slave, than while the force of war is operating upon him :
and as before proved from Scripture, and moral justice, that
every child of an African, born in America, or elsewhere, is
born free : therefore, he suffers the same cruel force of fraud
and power while continued under the galling yoke of slavery,
as was exercised on his predecessors.

" The lust of power, and the pride of conquest, have doubt-
less produced instances far too numerous of man enslaved by
man. But we, in an enlightened age, have greatly surpassed,
in brutality and injustice, the most ignorant and barbarous
ages ; and while we are pretending to the finest feelings of
humanity, are exercising unprecedented cruelty. We have
planted slavery in the rank soil of sordid avarice : and the
product has been misery in the extreme. We have ascer-
tained, by a course of experiments in cruelty, the least portion
of nourishment requisite to enable man to linger a few years
in misery ; the greatest quantity of labour, which, in such a
situation, the extreme of punishment can extort ; and the
utmost degree of pain, labour and hunger united, that the
human frame can endure. In vain have such scenes been
developed. The wealth derived from the horrid traffic, has
created an influence that secures its continuance ; unless the
people at large shall refuse to receive the produce of robbery
and murder."

Q. 2. Under what name or descriptive mode of property
are the slaves to be considered, in relation to the man who
holds them as such ?

A. The slaves being taken by violence, either directly or
indirectly, contrary to their o\\ai wills, and in direct opposition
to all the power of self-defence, which they are capable of
exerting, whether they are taken prisoners of war or stolen,
or decoyed on shipboard by the slave merchant, and then for-
cibly confined and carried off ; it must be aclmowledged, they
are taken in a state of war, and considered by the captor as


a prize : therefore, the only true title and description of pro-
perty they can possibly bear, is prize goods.

Q. 3. Is not the produce of the slave's labour likewise prize
goods ?

A. It certainly is ; for the man, who, by mere power and
violence, without any just plea of right, not only holds them
as slaves, but takes from them, in the same cruel and arbi-
trary manner, the proceeds of their labour, without their con-
sent, thereby places himself in a state of continual and actual
waT with his slaves. And, moreover, as the stealing or taldng
a man by violence, and depriving him of his liberty, and
reducing him to the wretched and helpless state of a slave, is
the highest grade of felony, and is done purposely to profit by
the slave's labour ; therefore, the produce of the slave's labour
is the highest grade of prize goods, next to his person.

Q. 4. Does the highway robber, that meets his fellow-citizen
on the highway, and robs him of all the property he has in
his present possession, and then leaves him at liberty, without
injuring his person, commit as high an act of felony, as he
that steals or buys, or takes a man by violence, and reduces
him to the wretched and degraded state of a slave for life ?

A. No ! in no wise. Which answer is founded on the self-
evident proposition, that it is more criminal to rob a man of his
liberty and property, than only to rob him of his property.

Q. 5. Does it lessen the criminality and wickedness of
reducing our fellow creatures to the abject state of slavery, and
continuing them therein, because the practice is tolerated by
the laws of the country we live in ?

A. No ! by no means. Because, every rational creature
Imows, or ought to Imow, that.no laws of men or nations,
can alter the nature of immutable justice. The criminality
remains as great in all cases of slavery, when inflicted with-
out any criminality of the individual made a slave, under the
sanction of law, as when it is not ; and in some cases, greater :
as in the instance of those governments, where they are not
only guilty of the cruelty and oppression of reducing, by mere
power, without any possible plea of right, their fellow crea-


tures who have equally a right with themselves to liberty, and
the purchase of redemption by a Saviour's blood, to the abject
and wretched state of slaves, but are adding sin to sin, by
making and continuing cruel laws to hold them still longer
under the galling yoke.

Q. 6. Would it be right and consistent with justice and
equity, for the legislatures of the several states, and others
concerned, to make laws entirely to abolish slavery in their
respective states?

A. It would, doubtless, be entirely right, and perfectly con-
sistent with equity and justice to make such laws ; and noth-
ing, I apprehend, can exculpate them from the charge of blood-
guiltiness short of so doing : as, no doubt, many of the poor
victims of slavery suffer daily to the sl>edding of their blood,
under the hands of some of the cruel men who pretend to be
their masters, because they do not at all times immediately
submit to their cruel and arbitrary wills.

Q. 7. Would it not give just occasion for those who still
have slaves in their possession, and especially to such as have
lately purchased them, at a dear rate, to complain of wrong in
thus taking from them, v/ithout their consent, v/hat they esteem
as their real property ?

A. The making and enforcing such laws cannot possibly
give just occasion for any such complaint ; as it is impossible
for any man to gain any just property in a rational being, as a
slave, without his consent ; for, neither the slave dealer nor
the planter have any moral right to the person of him they
style their slave, to his labour, or to the produce of it ; so, they
can convey no right in such person, nor in the produce of his
labour to another ; and whatever number of hands they may
pass through, (if the criminal circumstances appertaining
thereto be known to them at the time of the transfer,) they can
only have a criminal possession ; and .the money paid either
for the slave or for the produce of his labour, is paid to obtain
that criminal possession, and can confer no moral right what-
ever ; and if the death of the person called a slave, be occa-
sioned by the criminal possession, the criminal possessor is


guilty of murder ; and we who liave knowingly done any a<;t
which might occasion his being in that situation, are accbssa-
hes to the murder, before the fact ; as by receiving the produce
of his labour, we are accessaries to the robbery after the fact.
Therefore, I conceive, it must appear clear and agreeable to
truth and justice, that a man who should dare to be so hardy
as to buy a fellow creature, whose liberty is withheld from him
by violence and injustice, ought not only to be obliged to set
him free, and to forfeit the purchase money, but likewise to
make full satisfaction to the person he had injured, by such

Q. 8. As the Legislature of the State of New York has
passed a law, declaring that every child, born in this state of
a woman held as a slave, shall be free, the males at twenty-
eight years of age, and the females at twenty-five ; can such
a law be considered as doing full justice to that injured people?

A. Although such might have been the unjust bias, that too
generally prevailed on the minds of the inhabitants of this
State, at the time of making the law alluded to in the query,
that it was the best step the Legislature could then take ;
nevertheless, in my opinion, it fell very far short of doing
them that full justice to which they are entitled ; for, as all
children born of white women in this state, are free at the age
of twenty-one and eighteen years, according to their sex, and as
the Africans and their descendants are not here in their own
wills, nor agreeable to their own choice, but wholly in conse-
quence of the will and pleasure of the white citizens of this
State ; therefore, it is impossible, m point of justice, that any
disadvantage or penalty should attach to them, as a conse-
quence of their being here : but as free born men and women,
they have a right to demand their freedom at the same age as
other citizens ; and to deny them of it, is depriving them of
their just right.

Q. 9. What measures can be adopted by the Legislature
and citizens of New York, in order to exculpate themselves
from the giLlt of that atrocious crime of holding the Africans
and their descendants so long in slavery ?

ox SLAVERY. 15

A. The least that can be done, in order to effect the salu-
tary end contemplated by the query, would be to declare free-
dom to every slave in the state, and to make provision by law
for the education of all minors that are in a state of slavery ;
compelling their masters, or those who have the charge of
them, to instruct them so as to keep their own accounts, and
that they be set at liberty, the males at twenty-one and females
at eighteen years of age : and further, that some lawful and
reasonable step be taken, to compensate such slaves as have
been held in bondage beyond "that age, for such surplus
service. ■

Q. 10. By what class of the people is the slavery of the
Africans and their descendants supported and encouraged ?

A. Principally by the purchasers and consumers of the
produce of the slaves' labour ; as the profits arising from the
produce of their labour, is the only stimulus or inducement for
making slaves.

" The laws of our country may indeed prohibit us the
sweets of the sugar cane," and other articles of the West-
Indies and southern states, that are the produce of the slave's
labour, " unless we will receive it through the medium of
slavery ; they may hold it to our lips, steeped in the blood of
our fellow creatures, but they cannot compel us to accept the
loathsome potion. With us it rests, either to receive it and
be partners in th-e crime, or to exonerate ourselves from
guilt, by spurning from us the temptation. For let us not
think, that the crime rests alone with those who conduct the
traffic, or the Legislature by which it is protected. If we
purchase the commodity, we participate in the crime. The
slave dealer, the slave holder, and the slave driver, are virtu-
ally the agents of the consumer, and may be considered as
employed and hired by him, to procure the commodity. For,
by holding out the temptation, he is the original cause, the first
mover in the horrid process ; and every distinction is done
away by the moral maxim, That whatever ice do by another,
71)6 do ourselves.

'■' Nor are we by any means warranted to consider our indi-


vidual share in producing these evils in a trivial point of view :
the consumption of sugar" and other articles of slavery " jn
this country is so immense, that the quantity commonly used
by individuals will have an important effect."

Q. 11. What effect would it have on the slave holders and
their slaves, should the people of the United States of America
and the inhabitants of Great Britain, refuse to purchase or
make use of any goods that are the produce of slavery ?

A. It would doubtless have a particular effect on the slave
holders, by circumscribing their avarice, and preventing their
heaping up riches, and living in a state of luxury and excess
on the gain of oppression : and it might have the salutary
effect of convincing them of the unrighteousness and cruelty
of holding their fellow creatures in bondage ; and it would
have a blessed and excellent effect on the poor atliicted slaves ;
as it would immediately meliorate their wretched condition
and abate their cruel bondage ; for I have been informed, and
reason naturally dictates to every one who has made right
observations on men and things, that the higher the price of
such produce is, the harder they are driven at their work.

And should the people of the United States, and the inhabit-
ants of Great Britain, withdraw from a commerce in, and the
use of the produce of slavery, it would greatly lessen the price
of those articles, and be a very great and immediate relief to
the poor, injured and oppressed slaves, whose blood is conthiu-
ally ciying from the ground for justice, as their lives are greatly
shortened, and many of them do not live out half their day?
by reason of their cruel bondage.

" If we as individuals concerned in purchasing and co-n-
suming the produce of slavery, should imagine that our share
in the transaction is so minute, that it cannot perceptibly
increase the injury ; let us recollect, that, though numbers
partaking of a crime may diminish the shame, they cannot

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Online LibraryElias HicksLetters of Elias Hicks: including also Observations on the slavery of the Africans and their descendants, and on the use of the produce of their labor → online text (page 1 of 21)