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Produced by The James J. Kelly Library of St. Gregory's
University, Dianne Bean, Doug Levy, and Alev Akman



By Jesse Macy

New Haven: Yale University Press

Toronto: Glasgow, Brook & Co.

London: Humphrey Milford Oxford University Press




















The Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln marks the beginning
of the end of a long chapter in human history. Among the earliest
forms of private property was the ownership of slaves. Slavery as an
institution had persisted throughout the ages, always under protest,
always provoking opposition, insurrection, social and civil war, and
ever bearing within itself the seeds of its own destruction. Among the
historic powers of the world the United States was the last to uphold
slavery, and when, a few years after Lincoln's proclamation, Brazil
emancipated her slaves, property in man as a legally recognized
institution came to an end in all civilized countries.

Emancipation in the United States marked the conclusion of a century of
continuous debate, in which the entire history of western civilization
was traversed. The literature of American slavery is, indeed, a summary
of the literature of the world on the subject. The Bible was made a
standard text-book both for and against slavery. Hebrew and Christian
experiences were exploited in the interest of the contending parties
in this crucial controversy. Churches of the same name and order
were divided among themselves and became half pro-slavery and half

Greek experience and Greek literature were likewise drawn into the
controversy. The Greeks themselves had set the example of arguing both
for and against slavery. Their practice and their prevailing teaching,
however, gave support to this institution. They clearly enunciated the
doctrine that there is a natural division among human beings; that some
are born to command and others to obey; that it is natural to some men
to be masters and to others to be slaves; that each of these classes
should fulfill the destiny which nature assigns. The Greeks also
recognized a difference between races and held that some were by
nature fitted to serve as slaves, and others to command as masters. The
defenders of American slavery therefore found among the writings of the
Greeks their chief arguments already stated in classic form.

Though the Romans added little to the theory of the fundamental problem
involved, their history proved rich in practical experience. There were
times, in parts of the Roman Empire, when personal slavery either
did not exist or was limited and insignificant in extent. But the
institution grew with Roman wars and conquests. In rural districts,
slave labor displaced free labor, and in the cities servants multiplied
with the concentration of wealth. The size and character of the
slave population eventually became a perpetual menace to the State.
Insurrections proved formidable, and every slave came to be looked upon
as an enemy to the public. It is generally conceded that the extension
of slavery was a primary cause of the decline and fall of Rome. In
the American controversy, therefore, the lesson to be drawn from Roman
experience was utilized to support the cause of free labor.

After the Middle Ages, in which slavery under the modified form of
feudalism ran its course, there was a reversion to the ancient classical
controversy. The issue became clearly defined in the hands of the
English and French philosophers of the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries. In place of the time-honored doctrine that the masses of
mankind are by nature subject to the few who are born to rule, the
contradictory dogma that all men are by nature free and equal was
clearly enunciated. According to this later view, it is of the very
nature of spirit, or personality, to be free. All men are endowed with
personal qualities of will and choice and a conscious sense of right and
wrong. To subject these native faculties to an alien force is to make
war upon human nature. Slavery and despotism are, therefore, in their
nature but a species of warfare. They involve the forcing of men to act
in violation of their true selves. The older doctrine makes government
a matter of force. The strong command the weak, or the rich exercise
lordship over the poor. The new doctrine makes of government an
achievement of adult citizens who agree among themselves as to what
is fit and proper for the good of the State and who freely observe the
rules adopted and apply force only to the abnormal, the delinquent, and
the defective.

Between the upholders of these contradictory views of human nature
there always has been and there always must be perpetual warfare. Their
difference is such as to admit of no compromise; no middle ground is
possible. The conflict is indeed irresistible. The chief interest in
the American crusade against slavery arises from its relation to this
general world conflict between liberty and despotism.

The Athenians could be democrats and at the same time could uphold and
defend the institution of slavery. They were committed to the doctrine
that the masses of the people were slaves by nature. By definition,
they made slaves creatures void of will and personality, and they
conveniently ignored them in matters of state. But Americans living in
States founded in the era of the Declaration of Independence could not
be good democrats and at the same time uphold and defend the institution
of slavery, for the Declaration gives the lie to all such assumptions
of human inequality by accepting the cardinal axiom that all men are
created equal and are endowed with certain inalienable rights, among
which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The doctrine
of equality had been developed in Europe without special reference to
questions of distinct race or color. But the terms, which are universal
and as broad as humanity in their denotation, came to be applied to
black men as well as to white men. Massachusetts embodied in her state
constitution in 1780 the words, "All men are born free and equal," and
the courts ruled that these words in the state constitution had the
effect of liberating the slaves and of giving to them the same rights as
other citizens. This is a perfectly logical application of the doctrine
of the Revolution.

The African slave-trade, however, developed earlier than the doctrine
of the Declaration of Independence. Negro slavery had long been an
established institution in all the American colonies. Opposition to the
slave-trade and to slavery was an integral part of the evolution of
the doctrine of equal rights. As the colonists contended for their own
freedom, they became anti-slavery in sentiment. A standard complaint
against British rule was the continued imposition of the slave-trade
upon the colonists against their oft-repeated protest.

In the original draft of the Declaration of Independence, there appeared
the following charges against the King of Great Britain:

"He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most
sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of distant people
who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in
another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation
thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is
the warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain. Determined to keep
open a market where men should be bought and sold, he has prostituted
his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to
restrain this execrable commerce."

Though this clause was omitted from the document as finally adopted,
the evidence is abundant that the language expressed the prevailing
sentiment of the country. To the believer in liberty and equality,
slavery and the slave-trade are instances of war against human nature.
No one attempted to justify slavery or to reconcile it with the
principles of free government. Slavery was accepted as an inheritance
for which others were to blame. Colonists at first blamed Great Britain;
later apologists for slavery blamed New England for her share in the
continuance of the slave-trade.

The fact should be clearly comprehended that the sentiments which led to
the American Revolution, and later to the French Revolution in Europe,
were as broad in their application as the human race itself - that there
were no limitations nor exceptions. These new principles involved
a complete revolution in the previously recognized principles of
government. The French sought to make a master-stroke at immediate
achievement and they incurred counterrevolutions and delays. The
Americans moved in a more moderate and tentative manner towards the
great achievement, but with them also a counter-revolution finally
appeared in the rise of an influential class who, by openly defending
slavery, repudiated the principles upon which the government was

At first the impression was general, in the South as well as in
the North, that slavery was a temporary institution. The cause of
emancipation was already advocated by the Society of Friends and some
other sects. A majority of the States adopted measures for the gradual
abolition of slavery, but in other cases there proved to be industrial
barriers to emancipation. Slaves were found to be profitably employed in
clearing away the forests; they were not profitably employed in general
agriculture. A marked exception was found in small districts in the
Carolinas and Georgia where indigo and rice were produced; and though
cotton later became a profitable crop for slave labor, it was the
producers of rice and indigo who furnished the original barrier to the
immediate extension of the policy of emancipation. Representatives from
their States secured the introduction of a clause into the Constitution
which delayed for twenty years the execution of the will of the country
against the African slave-trade. It is said that a slave imported from
Africa paid for himself in a single year in the production of rice.
There were thus a few planters in Georgia and the Carolinas who had an
obvious interest in the prolongation of the institution of slavery and
who had influence enough, to secure constitutional recognition for both
slavery and the slave-trade.

The principles involved were not seriously debated. In theory all were
abolitionists; in practice slavery extended to all the States. In some,
actual abolition was comparatively easy; in others, it was difficult. By
the end of the first quarter of the nineteenth century, actual abolition
had extended to the line separating Pennsylvania from Maryland. Of the
original thirteen States seven became free and six remained slave.

The absence of ardent or prolonged debate upon this issue in the early
history of the United States is easily accounted for. No principle
of importance was drawn into the controversy; few presumed to defend
slavery as a just or righteous institution. As to conduct, each
individual, each neighborhood enjoyed the freedom of a large, roomy
country. Even within state lines there was liberty enough. No keen sense
of responsibility for a uniform state policy existed. It was therefore
not difficult for those who were growing wealthy by the use of imported
negroes to maintain their privileges in the State.

If the sense of active responsibility was wanting within the separate
States, much more was this true of the citizens of different States.
Slavery was regarded as strictly a domestic institution. Families bought
and owned slaves as a matter of individual preference. None of the
original colonies or States adopted slavery by law. The citizens of the
various colonies became slaveholders simply because there was no law
against it. * The abolition of slavery was at first an individual matter
or a church or a state policy. When the Constitution was formulated, the
separate States had been accustomed to regard themselves as possessed
of sovereign powers; hence there was no occasion for the citizens of
one State to have a sense of responsibility on account of the
domestic institutions of other States. The consciousness of national
responsibility was of slow growth, and the conditions did not then
exist which favored a general crusade against slavery or a prolonged
acrimonious debate on the subject, such as arose forty years later.

* In the case of Georgia there was a prohibitory law, which
was disregarded.

In many of the States, however, there were organized abolition
societies, whose object was to promote the cause of emancipation already
in progress and to protect the rights of free negroes. The Friends, or
Quakers, were especially active in the promotion of a propaganda for
universal emancipation. A petition which was presented to the first
Congress in February, 1790, with the signature of Benjamin Franklin
as President of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, contained this
concluding paragraph:

"From a persuasion that equal liberty was originally, and is still, the
birthright of all men, and influenced by the strong ties of humanity
and the principles of their institutions, your memorialists conceive
themselves bound to use all justifiable endeavors to loosen the bonds
of slavery, and to promote the general enjoyment of the blessings of
freedom. Under these impressions they earnestly entreat your attention
to the subject of slavery; that you will be pleased to countenance the
restoration to liberty of those unhappy men, who, alone, in this land of
freemen, are groaning in servile subjection; that you will devise means
for removing this inconsistency of character from 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 fellowmen."

* William Goodell, "Slavery and Anti-Slavery," p. 99.

The memorialists were treated with profound respect. Cordial support and
encouragement came from representatives from Virginia and other slave
States. Opposition was expressed by members from South Carolina and
Georgia. These for the most part relied upon their constitutional
guaranties. But for these guaranties, said Smith, of South Carolina,
his State would not have entered the Union. In the extreme utterances in
opposition to the petition there is a suggestion of the revolution which
was to occur forty years later.

Active abolitionists who gave time and money to the promotion of the
cause were always few in numbers. Previous to 1830 abolition societies
resembled associations for the prevention of cruelty to animals - in
fact, in one instance at least this was made one of the professed
objects. These societies labored to induce men to act in harmony
with generally acknowledged obligations, and they had no occasion for
violence or persecution. Abolitionists were distinguished for their
benevolence and their unselfish devotion to the interests of the needy
and the unfortunate. It was only when the ruling classes resorted to mob
violence and began to defend slavery as a divinely ordained institution
that there was a radical change in the spirit of the controversy. The
irrepressible conflict between liberty and despotism which has persisted
in all ages became manifest when slave-masters substituted the Greek
doctrine of inequality and slavery for the previously accepted Christian
doctrine of equality and universal brotherhood.


It was a mere accident that the line drawn by Mason and Dixon between
Pennsylvania and Maryland became known in later years as the dividing
line between slavery and freedom. The six States south of that line
ultimately neglected or refused to abolish slavery, while the seven
Northern States became free. Vermont became a State in 1791 and Kentucky
in 1792. The third State to be added to the original thirteen was
Tennessee in 1796. At that time, counting the States as they were
finally classified, eight were destined to be slave and eight free. Ohio
entered the Union as a State in 1802, thus giving to the free States
a majority of one. The balance, however, was restored in 1812 by the
admission of Louisiana as a slave State. The admission of Indiana in
1816 on the one side and of Mississippi in 1817 on the other still
maintained the balance: ten free States stood against ten slave States.
During the next two years Illinois and Alabama were admitted, making
twenty-two States in all, still evenly divided.

The ordinance for the government of the territory north of the Ohio
River, passed in 1787 and reenacted by Congress after the adoption
of the Constitution, proved to be an act of great significance in its
relation to the limitation of slavery. By this ordinance slavery was
forever prohibited in the Northwest Territory. In the territory south
of the Ohio River slavery became permanently established. The river,
therefore, became an extension of the original Mason and Dixon's Line
with the new meaning attached: it became a division between free and
slave territory.

It was apparently at first a mere matter of chance that a balance was
struck between the two losses of States. While Virginia remained a slave
State, it was natural that slavery should extend into Kentucky, which
had been a part of Virginia. Likewise Tennessee, being a part of North
Carolina, became slave territory. When these two Territories became
slave States, the equal division began. There was yet an abundance of
territory both north and south to be taken into the Union and, without
any special plan or agitation, States were admitted in pairs, one free
and the other slave. In the meantime there was distinctly developed the
idea of the possible or probable permanence of slavery in the South and
of a rivalry or even a future conflict between the two sections.

When in 1819 Missouri applied for admission to the Union with a state
constitution permitting slavery, there was a prolonged debate over the
whole question, not only in Congress but throughout the entire country.
North and South were distinctly pitted against each other with rival
systems of labor. The following year Congress passed a law providing
for the admission of Missouri, but, to restore the balance, Maine was
separated from Massachusetts and was admitted to the Union as a State.
It was further enacted that slavery should be forever prohibited from
all territory of the United States north of the parallel 36 degrees 30',
that is, north of the southern boundary of Missouri. It is this part of
the act which is known as the Missouri Compromise. It was accepted as
a permanent limitation of the institution of slavery. By this act Mason
and Dixon's Line was extended through the Louisiana Purchase. As the
western boundary was then defined, slavery could still be extended into
Arkansas and into a part of what is now Oklahoma, while a great empire
to the northwest was reserved for the formation of free States. Arkansas
became a slave State in 1836 and Michigan was admitted as a free State
in the following year.

With the admission of Arkansas and Michigan, thirteen slave States were
balanced by a like number of free States. The South still had Florida,
which would in time become a slave State. Against this single Territory
there was an immense region to the northwest, equal in area to all the
slave States combined, which, according to the Ordinance of 1787 and the
Missouri Compromise, had been consecrated to freedom. Foreseeing this
condition, a few Southern planters began a movement for the extension
of territory to the south and west immediately after the adoption of
the Missouri Compromise. When Arkansas was admitted in 1836, there was a
prospect of the immediate annexation of Texas as a slave State. This did
not take place until nine years later, but the propaganda, the object of
which was the extension of slave territory, could not be maintained by
those who contended that slavery was a curse to the country. Virginia,
therefore, and other border slave States, as they became committed to
the policy of expansion, ceased to tolerate official public utterances
against slavery.

Three more or less clearly defined sections appear in the later
development of the crusade. These are the New England States, the Middle
States, and the States south of North Carolina and Tennessee. In New
England, few negroes were ever held as slaves, and the institution
disappeared during the first years of the Republic. The inhabitants had
little experience arising from actual contact with slavery. When slavery
disappeared from New England and before there had been developed in the
country at large a national feeling of responsibility for its continued
existence, interest in the subject declined. For twenty years previous
to the founding of Garrison's Liberator in 1831, organized abolition
movements had been almost unknown in New England. In various ways
the people were isolated, separated from contact with slavery. Their
knowledge of this subject of discussion was academic, theoretical,
acquired at second-hand.

In New York and New Jersey slaves were much more numerous than in New
England. There were still slaves in considerable numbers until about
1825. The people had a knowledge of the institution from experience and
observation, and there was no break in the continuity of their organized
abolition societies. Chief among the objects of these societies was the
effort to prevent kidnapping and to guard the rights of free negroes.
For both of these purposes there was a continuous call for activity.
Pennsylvania also had freedmen of her own whose rights called for
guardianship, as well as many freedmen from farther south who had come
into the State.

The movement of protest and protection did not stop at Mason and Dixon's
Line, but extended far into the South. In both North Carolina and
Tennessee an active protest against slavery was at all times maintained.
In this great middle section of the country, between New England and
South Carolina, there was no cessation in the conflict between free
and slave labor. Some of these States became free while others remained
slave; but between the people of the two sections there was continuous
communication. Slaveholders came into free States to liberate their
slaves. Non-slaveholders came to get rid of the competition of slave
labor, and free negroes came to avoid reenslavement. Slaves fled thither
on their way to liberty. It was not a matter of choice; it was an
unavoidable condition which compelled the people of the border States to
give continuous attention to the institution of slavery.

The modern anti-slavery movement had its origin in this great middle
section, and from the same source it derived its chief support. The
great body of active abolitionists were from the slave States or
else derived their inspiration from personal contact with slavery. As
compared with New England abolitionists, the middlestate folk were
less extreme in their views. They had a keener appreciation of the
difficulties involved in emancipation. They were more tolerant towards
the idea of letting the country at large share the burdens involved
in the liberation of the slaves. Border-state abolitionists naturally
favored the policy of gradual emancipation which had been followed in
New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Abolitionists who continued
to reside in the slave States were forced to recognize the fact that
emancipation involved serious questions of race adjustment. From
the border States came the colonization society, a characteristic
institution, as well as compromise of every variety.

The southernmost section, including South Carolina, Georgia, and the
Gulf States, was even more sharply defined in the attitude it
assumed toward the anti-slavery movement. At no time did the cause of
emancipation become formidable in this section. In all these States

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Online LibraryJesse MacyAn Anti-Slavery Crusade; a chronicle of the gathering storm → online text (page 1 of 12)