George W. Williams.

History of the Negro Race in America From 1619 to 1880. Vol 1 Negroes as Slaves, as Soldiers, and as Citizens online

. (page 50 of 57)
Online LibraryGeorge W. WilliamsHistory of the Negro Race in America From 1619 to 1880. Vol 1 Negroes as Slaves, as Soldiers, and as Citizens → online text (page 50 of 57)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

"Slavery is such an atrocious debasement of human nature,
that its very extirpation, if not performed with solicitous
care, may sometimes open a source of serious evils.

"The unhappy man, who has long been treated as a brute
animal, too frequently sinks beneath the common standard of
the human species. The galling chains that bind his body do
also fetter his intellectual faculties, and impair the
social affections of his heart. Accustomed to move like a
mere machine, by the will of a master, reflection is
suspended; he has not the power of choice; and reason and
conscience have but little influence over his conduct,
because he is chiefly governed by the passion of fear. He is
poor and friendless; perhaps worn out by extreme labor, age,
and disease.

"Under such circumstances, freedom may often prove a
misfortune to himself, and prejudicial to society.

"Attention to emancipated black people, it is therefore to
be hoped, will become a branch of our national police; but,
as far as we contribute to promote this emancipation, so far
that attention is evidently a serious duty incumbent on us,
and which we mean to discharge to the best of our judgement
and abilities.

"To instruct, to advise, to qualify those who have been
restored to freedom, for the exercise and enjoyment of civil
liberty; to promote in them habits of industry; to furnish
them with employments suited to their age, sex, talents, and
other circumstances; and to procure their children an
education calculated for their future situation in
life, - these are the great outlines of the annexed plan
which we have adopted, and which we conceive will
essentially promote the public good, and the happiness of
these our hitherto too much neglected fellow-creatures.

"A plan so extensive cannot be carried into execution
without considerable pecuniary resources, beyond the present
ordinary funds of the Society. We hope much from the
generosity of enlightened and benevolent freemen, and will
gratefully receive any donations or subscriptions for this
purpose which may be made to our Treasurer, James Starr, or
to James Pemberton, Chairman of our Committee of

"Signed by order of the Society,
"B. FRANKLIN, _President_.

"Philadelphia, 9th of November, 1789."

And as his last public act, Franklin gave his signature to the
subjoined memorial to the United States Congress: -

"The memorial respectfully showeth, -

"That, from a regard for the happiness of mankind, an
association was formed several years since in this State, by
a number of her citizens, of various religious
denominations, for promoting the abolition of slavery, and
for the relief of those unlawfully held in bondage. A just
and acute conception of the true principles of liberty, as
it spread through the land, produced accessions to their
numbers, many friends to their cause, and a legislative
co-operation with their views, which, by the blessing of
Divine Providence, have been successfully directed to the
relieving from bondage a large number of their
fellow-creatures of the African race. They have also the
satisfaction to observe, that, in consequence of that spirit
of philanthropy and genuine liberty which is generally
diffusing its beneficial influence, similar institutions are
forming at home and abroad.

"That mankind are all formed by the same Almighty Being,
alike objects of his care, and equally designed for the
enjoyment of happiness, the Christian religion teaches us to
believe, and the political creed of Americans fully
coincides with the position. Your memorialists, particularly
engaged in attending to the distresses arising from slavery,
believe it their indispensable duty to present this subject
to your notice. They have observed, with real satisfaction,
that many important and salutary powers are vested in you
for 'promoting the welfare and securing the blessings of
liberty to the people of the United States'; and as they
conceive that these blessings ought rightfully to be
administered, without distinction of color, to all
descriptions of people, so they indulge themselves in the
pleasing expectation, that nothing which can be done for the
relief of the unhappy objects of their care, will be either
omitted or delayed.

"From a persuasion that equal liberty was originally the
portion, and is still the birth-right, of all men; and
influenced by the strong ties of humanity, and the
principles of their institution, your memorialists conceive
themselves bound to use all justifiable endeavors to loosen
the bands of slavery, and promote a general enjoyment of the
blessings of freedom. Under these impressions, they
earnestly entreat your serious attention to the subject of
slavery; that you will be pleased to countenance the
restoration of liberty to those unhappy men, who alone, in
this land of freedom, are degraded into perpetual bondage,
and who, amidst the general joy of surrounding freemen, are
groaning in servile subjection; that you will devise means
for removing this inconsistency from the character of the
American people; that you will promote mercy and justice
towards this distressed race; and that you will step to the
very verge of the power vested in you for discouraging every
species of traffic in the persons of our fellow-men.

"BENJ. FRANKLIN, _President_.

"PHILADELPHIA, February 3, 1790."

The session of Congress held in 1790 was stormy. The slavery question
came back to haunt the members. On the 12th of February, the memorial
from the Pennsylvania society was read. It provoked fresh discussion,
and greatly angered many of the Southern members. As soon as its
reading was completed, the "Quaker Memorial," that had been read the
day previous, was called up; and Mr. Hartley moved its commitment. A
long and spirited debate ensued. It was charged that the memorial was
"a mischievous attempt, an improper interference, at the best, an act
of imprudence;" and that it "would sound an alarm and blow the trumpet
of sedition through the Southern States." Mr. Scott of Pennsylvania
replied by saying, "I cannot entertain a doubt that the memorial is
strictly agreeable to the Constitution. It respects a part of the duty
particularly assigned to us by that instrument." Mr. Sherman was in
favor of the commitment of the memorial, and gave his reasons _in
extenso_. Mr. Smith of South Carolina said, "Notwithstanding all the
calmness with which some gentlemen have viewed the subject, they will
find that the mere discussion of it will create alarm. We have been
told that, if so, we should have avoided discussion by saying nothing.
But it was not for that purpose we were sent here. We look upon this
measure as an attack upon property; it is, therefore, our duty to
oppose it by every means in our power. When we entered into a
political connection with the other States, this property was there.
It had been acquired under a former government conformably to the laws
and constitution, and every attempt to deprive us of it must be in the
nature of an _ex post facto_ law, and, as such, forbidden by our
political compact." Following the unwise and undignified example set
by the gentlemen who had preceded him on that side of the question, he
slurred the Quakers. "His constituents wanted no lessons in religion
and morality, and least of all from such teachers."

Madison, Gerry, Boudinot, and Page favored commitment. Upon the
question to commit, the yeas and nays being demanded, the reference
was made by a vote of forty-three to eleven. Of the latter, six were
from Georgia and South Carolina, two from Virginia, two from Maryland,
and one from New York. A special committee was announced, to whom the
memorial was referred, consisting of one member from each of the
following States: New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York,
New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. At the end of a month, the
committee made the following report to Congress: -

"1st. That the general government was expressly restrained,
until the year 1808, from prohibiting the importation of any
persons whom any of the existing states might till that time
think proper to admit. 2d. That, by a fair construction of
the constitution, congress was equally restrained from
interfering to emancipate slaves within the states, such
slaves having been born there, or having been imported
within the period mentioned. 3d. That congress had no power
to interfere in the internal regulation of particular states
relative to the instruction of slaves in the principles of
morality and religion, to their comfortable clothing,
accommodation, and subsistence, to the regulation of
marriages or the violation of marital rights, to the
separation of children and parents, to a comfortable
provision in cases of age or infirmity, or to the seizure,
transportation, and sale of free negroes; but entertained
the fullest confidence in the wisdom and humanity of the
state legislature that, from time to time, they would revise
their laws, and promote these and all other measures tending
to the happiness of the slaves. The fourth asserted that
congress had authority to levy a tax of ten dollars, should
they see fit to exact it, upon every person imported under
the special permission of any of the states. The fifth
declared the authority of congress to interdict or to
regulate the African slave-trade, so far as it might be
carried on by citizens of the United States for the supply
of foreign countries, and also to provide for the humane
treatment of slaves while on their passage to any ports of
the United States into which they might be admitted. The
sixth asserted the right of congress to prohibit foreigners
from fitting out vessels in the United States to be employed
in the supply of foreign countries with slaves from Africa.
The seventh expressed an intention on the part of congress
to exercise their authority to its full extent to promote
the humane objects aimed at in the Quaker's memorial."

Mr. Tucker took the floor against the report of the committee, and,
after a bitter speech upon the unconstitutionality of meddling with
the slavery question in any manner, moved a substitute for the whole,
in which he pronounced the recommendations of the committee "as
unconstitutional, and tending to injure some of the States of the
Union." Mr. Jackson seconded the motion in a rather intemperate
speech, which was replied to by Mr. Vining. The substitute of Mr.
Tucker was declared out of order. Mr. Benson moved to recommit in
hopes of getting rid of the subject, but the motion was overwhelmingly
voted down. The report was taken up article by article. The three
first resolutions (those relating to the authority of Congress over
slavery in the States) were adopted; while the second and third were
merged into one, stripped of its objectionable features. But on the
fourth the debate was carried to a high pitch. This one related to the
ten-dollar tax. Mr. Tucker moved to amend by striking out the fourth
resolution. Considerable discussion followed; and, upon the question
being put, it was carried by one vote. The fifth resolution,
affirming the power of Congress to regulate the slave-trade, drew the
fire of Jackson, Smith, and Tucker. Mr. Madison offered to modify it
somewhat. It was argued by the opponents of this resolution, that
Congress, under the plea of regulating the trade, might prohibit it
entirely. Mr. Vining of Delaware, somewhat out of patience with the
demands of the Southern members, told those gentlemen very plainly
that they ought to be satisfied with the changes already made to
gratify them; that they should show some respect to the committee;
that all the States from Virginia to New Hampshire had passed laws
prohibiting the slave-trade; and then delivered an eloquent defence of
the Quakers. The resolution, as modified by Mr. Madison, carried.

The sixth resolution, relating to the foreign slave-trade carried on
from ports of the United States, received considerable attention. Mr.
Scott made an elaborate speech upon it, in which he claimed, that, if
it were a question as to the power of Congress to regulate the foreign
slave-trade, he had no doubts as to the authority of that body. "I
desire," said that gentleman, "that the world should know, I desire
that those people in the gallery, about whom so much has been said,
should know, that there is at least one member on this floor who
believes that Congress have ample powers to do all they have asked
respecting the African slave-trade. Nor do I doubt that Congress will,
whenever necessity or policy dictates the measure, exercise those
powers." Mr. Jackson attempted to reply. He started out with a labored
argument showing the divine origin of slavery, quoting Scriptures;
showed that the Greeks and Romans had held slaves, etc. He was
followed and supported by Smith of South Carolina. Boudinot obtained
the floor, and, after defending the Quakers and praising Franklin,
declared that there was nothing unreasonable in the memorial; that it
simply requested them "to go to the utmost verge of the Constitution,"
and not beyond it. Further debate was had, when the sixth resolution
was adopted.

The seventh resolution, pledging Congress to exert their full powers
for the restriction of the slave-trade - and, as some understood it, to
discountenance slavery - was struck out. The committee then arose and
reported the resolutions to the house. The next day, the 23d March,
1790, after some preliminary business was disposed of, a motion was
made to take up the report of the committee. Ames, Madison, and others
thought the matter, having occupied so much of the time of the house,
should be left where it was; or rather, as Mr. Madison expressed it,
simply entered on the Journals as a matter of public record. After
some little discussion, this motion prevailed by a vote of twenty-nine
to twenty-five. The entry was accordingly made as follows: -

"That the migration or importation of such persons as any of
the states now existing shall think proper to admit, can not
be prohibited by congress prior to the year 1808.

"That congress have no right to interfere in the
emancipation of slaves, or in the treatment of them, in any
of the states, it remaining with the several states alone to
provide any regulations therein which humanity and true
policy require.

"That congress have authority to restrain the citizens of
the United States from carrying on the African slave-trade
for the purpose of supplying foreigners with slaves, and of
providing by proper regulations for the humane treatment,
during their passage, of slaves imported by the said
citizens into the said states admitting such importation.

"That congress have also authority to prohibit foreigners
from fitting out vessels in any port of the United States
for transporting persons from Africa to any foreign port."

The census of 1790 gave the slave population of the States as
follows: -


Connecticut 2,759
Delaware 8,887
Georgia 29,264
Kentucky 11,830
Maryland 103,036
New Hampshire 158
New Jersey 11,423
New York 21,324
North Carolina 100,572
Pennsylvania 3,737
Rhode Island 952
South Carolina 107,094
Vermont 17
Virginia 293,427
Territory south of Ohio 3,417

Aggregate, 697,897.

Vermont was admitted into the Union on the 18th of February, 1791; and
the first article of the Bill of Rights declared that "no male person
born in this country, or brought from over sea, ought to be bound by
law to serve any person as a servant, slave, or apprentice after he
arrives at the age of twenty-one years, nor female, in like manner,
after she arrives at the age of twenty-one years, unless they are
bound by their own consent after they arrive at such age, or are bound
by law for the payment of debts, damages, fines, costs, or the like."
This provision was contained in the first Constitution of that State,
and, therefore, it was the first one to abolish and prohibit slavery
in North America.

On the 4th of February, 1791, Kentucky was admitted into the Union by
Act of Congress, though it had no Constitution. But the next year a
Constitution was framed. By it the Legislature was denied the right to
emancipate slaves without the consent of the owner, nor without paying
the full price of the slaves before emancipating them; nor could any
laws be passed prohibiting emigrants from other states from bringing
with them persons deemed slaves by the laws of any other states in the
Union, so long as such persons should be continued as slaves in
Kentucky. The Legislature had power to prohibit the bringing into the
state slaves for the purpose of sale. Masters were required to treat
their slaves with humanity, to properly feed and clothe them, and to
abstain from inflicting any punishment extending to life and limb.
Laws could be passed granting owners the right to emancipate their
slaves, but requiring security that the slaves thus emancipated should
not become a charge upon the county.

During the session of Congress in 1791, the Pennsylvania Society for
the Abolition of Slavery presented another memorial, calling upon
Congress to exercise the powers they had been declared to possess by
the report of the committee which had been spread upon the Journals of
the house. Thus emboldened, other anti-slavery societies, of Rhode
Island, Connecticut, New York, Virginia, and a few local societies of
Maryland, presented memorials praying for the suppression of slavery
in the United States. They were referred to a select committee; and,
as they made no report, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, the next
year, called the attention of Congress to the subject. On the 24th of
November, 1792, a Mr. Warner Mifflin, an anti-slavery Quaker from
Delaware, addressed a memorial to Congress on the general subject of
slavery, which was read and laid upon the table without debate. On the
26th of November, Mr. Stute of North Carolina offered some sharp
remarks upon the presumption of the Quaker, and moved that the
petition be returned to the petitioner, and that the clerk be
instructed to erase the entry from the Journal. This provoked a heated
discussion; but at length the petition was returned to the author,
and the motion to erase the record from the Journal was withdrawn by
the mover.

In 1793 a law was passed providing for the return of fugitives from
justice and from service, "In case of the escape out of any state or
territory of any person held to service or labor under the laws
thereof, the person to whom such labor was due, his agent, or
attorney, might seize the fugitive and carry him before any United
States judge, or before any magistrate of the city, town, or county in
which the arrest was made; and such judge or magistrate, on proof to
his satisfaction, either oral or by affidavit before any other
magistrate, that the person seized was really a fugitive, and did owe
labor as alleged, was to grant a certificate to that effect to the
claimant, this certificate to serve as sufficient warrant for the
removal of the fugitive to the state whence he had fled. Any person
obstructing in any way such seizure or removal, or harboring or
concealing any fugitive after notice, was liable to a penalty of $500,
to be recovered by the claimant."

In 1794 an anti-slavery convention was held in Philadelphia, in which
nearly all of the abolition societies of the country were represented.
A memorial, carefully avoiding constitutional objections, was drawn
and addressed to Congress to do whatever they could toward the
suppression of the slave-trade. This memorial, with several other
petitions, was referred to a special committee. In due time they
reported a bill, which passed without much opposition. It was the
first act of the government toward repressing the slave-trade, and was
as mild as a summer's day. On Wednesday, the 7th of January, 1795,
another meeting was held in Philadelphia, the second, to consider
anti-slavery measures. The Act of Congress was read.

"_An Act to prohibit the carrying on the Slave-trade from
the United States to any foreign place or country._

"SECTION I. BE _it enacted by the Senate and House of
Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress
assembled_, That no citizen or citizens of the United
States, or foreigner, or any other person coming into, or
residing within the same, shall, for himself or any other
person whatsoever, either as master, factor or owner, build,
fit, equip, load or otherwise prepare any ship or vessel,
within any port or place of the said United States, nor
shall cause any ship or vessel to sail from any port or
place within the same, for the purpose of carrying on any
trade or traffic in slaves, to any foreign country; or for
the purpose of procuring, from any foreign kingdom, place or
country, the inhabitants of such kingdom, place or country,
to be transported to any foreign country, port or place
whatever, to be sold or disposed of, as slaves: And if any
ship or vessel shall be so fitted out, as aforesaid, for the
said purposes, or shall be caused to sail, so as aforesaid,
every such ship or vessel, her tackle, furniture, apparel
and other appurtenances, shall be forfeited to the United
States; and shall be liable to be seized, prosecuted and
condemned, in any of the circuit courts or district court
for the district, where the said ship or vessel may be found
and seized.

"SECTION II. _And be it further enacted_, That all and every
person, so building, fitting out, equipping, loading, or
otherwise preparing, or sending away, any ship or vessel,
knowing, or intending, that the same shall be employed in
such trade or business, contrary to the true intent and
meaning of this act, or any ways aiding or abetting therein,
shall severally forfeit and pay the sum of two thousand
dollars, one moiety thereof, to the use of the United
States, and the other moiety thereof, to the use of him or
her, who shall sue for and prosecute the same.

"SECTION III. _And be it further enacted_, That the owner,
master or factor of each and every foreign ship or vessel,
clearing out for any of the coasts or kingdoms of Africa, or
suspected to be intended for the slave-trade, and the
suspicion being declared to the officer of the customs, by
any citizen, on oath or affirmation, and such information
being to the satisfaction of the said officer, shall first
give bond with sufficient sureties, to the Treasurer of the
United States, that none of the natives of Africa, or any
other foreign country or place, shall be taken on board the
said ship or vessel, to be transported, or sold as slaves,
in any other foreign port or place whatever, within nine
months thereafter.

"SECTION IV. _And be it further enacted_, That if any
citizen or citizens of the United States shall, contrary to
the true intent and meaning of this act, take on board,
receive or transport any such persons, as above described,
in this act, for the purpose of selling them as slaves, as
aforesaid, he or they shall forfeit and pay, for each and
every person, so received on board, transported, or sold as
aforesaid, the sum of two hundred dollars, to be recovered

Online LibraryGeorge W. WilliamsHistory of the Negro Race in America From 1619 to 1880. Vol 1 Negroes as Slaves, as Soldiers, and as Citizens → online text (page 50 of 57)