American Anti-Slavery Society.

The Anti-Slavery Examiner, Omnibus online

. (page 161 of 236)
Online LibraryAmerican Anti-Slavery SocietyThe Anti-Slavery Examiner, Omnibus → online text (page 161 of 236)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

intensely desired, griped with such a death-clutch, and with such
fierce spurnings of all curtailment or restraint, _cannot but be
abused._ Privations and inflictions must be its natural, habitual
products, with ever and anon, terror, torture, and despair let loose
to do their worst upon the helpless victims.

Though power over others is in every case liable to be used to their
injury, yet, in almost all cases, the subject individual is shielded
from great outrages by strong safeguards. If he have talents, or
learning, or wealth, or office, or personal respectability, or
influential friends, these, with the protection of law and the rights
of citizenship, stand round him as a body guard: and even if he lacked
all these, yet, had he the same color, features, form, dialect,
habits, and associations with the privileged caste of society, he
would find in _them_ a shield from many injuries, which would be
_invited,_ if in these respects he differed widely from the rest of
the community, and was on that account regarded with disgust and
aversion. This is the condition of the slave; not only is he deprived
of the artificial safeguards of the law, but has none of those
_natural_ safeguards enumerated above, which are a protection to
others. But not only is the slave destitute of those peculiarities,
habits, tastes, and acquisitions, which by assimilating the possessor
to the rest of the community, excite their interest in him, and thus,
in a measure, secure for him their protection; but he possesses those
peculiarities of bodily organization which are looked upon with deep
disgust, contempt, prejudice, and aversion. Besides this, constant
contact with the ignorance and stupidity of the slaves, their filth,
rags, and nakedness; their cowering air, servile employments,
repulsive food, and squalid hovels, their purchase and sale, and use
as brutes - all these associations, constantly mingling and circulating
in the minds of slaveholders, and inveterated by the hourly
irritations which must assail all who use human beings as things,
produce in them a permanent state of feeling toward the slave, made up
of repulsion and settled ill-will. When we add to this the corrosions
produced by the petty thefts of slaves, the necessity of constant
watching, their reluctant service, and indifference to their master's
interests, their ill concealed aversion to him, and spurning of his
authority; and finally, that fact, as old as human nature, that men
always hate those whom they oppress, and oppress those whom they hate,
thus oppression and hatred mutually begetting and perpetuating each
other - and we have a raging compound of fiery elements and disturbing
forces, so stimulating and inflaming the mind of the slaveholder
against the slave, that _it cannot but break forth upon him with
desolating fury._

To deny that cruelty is the spontaneous and uniform product of
arbitrary power, and that the natural and controlling tendency of such
power is to make its possessor cruel, oppressive, and revengeful
towards those who are subjected to his control, is, we repeat, to set
at nought the combined experience of the human race, to invalidate its
testimony, and to reverse its decisions from time immemorial.

A volume might be filled with the testimony of American slaveholders
alone, to the truth of the preceding position. We subjoin a few
illustrations, and first, the memorable declaration of President
Jefferson, who lived and died a slaveholder. It has been published a
thousand times, and will live forever. In his "Notes on Virginia,"
sixth Philadelphia edition, p. 251, he says, -

"The WHOLE COMMERCE between master and slave, is a PERPETUAL EXERCISE
of the most _boisterous passions_, the most unremitting DESPOTISM on
the one part, and degrading submission on the other..... The parent
_storms_, the child looks on, catches the lineaments of _wrath_, puts
on the same airs in the circle of smaller slaves, GIVES LOOSE TO THE
WORST OF PASSIONS; and thus _nursed, educated, and daily exercised in
tyranny,_ cannot but be stamped by it with odious peculiarities."

Hon. Lewis Summers, Judge of the General Court of Virginia, and a
slaveholder, said in a speech before the Virginia legislature in 1832;
(see Richmond Whig of Jan. 26, 1832,)

"A slave population exercises _the most pernicious influence_ upon the
manners, habits and character, of those among whom it exists. Lisping
infancy learns the vocabulary of abusive epithets, and struts the
_embryo tyrant_ of its little domain. The consciousness of superior
destiny takes possession of his mind at its earliest dawning, and love
of power and rule, 'grows with his growth, and strengthens with his
strength.' Unless enabled to rise above the operation of those
powerful causes, he enters the world with miserable notions of
self-importance, and under the government of an unbridled temper."

The late JUDGE TUCKER of Virginia, a slaveholder, and Professor of Law
in the University of William and Mary, in his "Letter to a Member of
the Virginia Legislature," 1801, says, -

"I say nothing of the baneful effects of slavery on our _moral
character_, because I know you have been long sensible of this point."

The Presbyterian Synod of South Carolina and Georgia, consisting of
all the clergy of that denomination in those states, with a lay
representation from the churches, most, if not all of whom are
slaveholders, published a report on slavery in 1834, from which the
following is an extract.

"Those only who have the management of servants, know what the
_hardening effect_ of it is upon _their own feelings towards them._
There is no necessity to dwell on this point, as all _owners_ and
_managers_ fully understand it. He who commences to manage them with
tenderness and with a willingness to favor them in every way, must be
watchful, otherwise he will settle down in _indifference, if not

GENERAL WILLIAM H. HARRISON, now of Ohio, son of the late Governor
Harrison of Virginia, a slaveholder, while minister from the United
States to the Republic of Colombia, wrote a letter to General Simon
Bolivar, then President of that Republic, just as he was about
assuming despotic power. The letter is dated Bogota, Sept. 22, 1826.
The following is an extract.

"From a knowledge of your own disposition and present feelings, your
excellency will not be willing to believe that you could ever be
brought to an act of tyranny, or even to execute justice with
unnecessary rigor. But trust me, sir, there is nothing more
corrupting, nothing more _destructive of the noblest and finest
feelings of our nature than the exercise of unlimited power_. The man,
who in the beginning of such a career, might shudder at the idea of
taking away the life of a fellow-being, might soon have his conscience
so seared by the repetition of crime, that the agonies of his murdered
victims might become music to his soul, and the drippings of the
scaffold afford blood to swim in. History is full of such excesses."

WILLIAM H. FITZHUGH, Esq. of Virginia, a slaveholder, says, - "Slavery,
in its mildest form, is cruel and unnatural; _its injurious effects on
our morals and habits are mutually felt."_

HON. SAMUEL S. NICHOLAS, late Judge of the Court of Appeals of
Kentucky, and a slaveholder, in a speech before the legislature of
that state, Jan. 1837, says, -

"The deliberate convictions of the most matured consideration I can
give the subject, are, that the institution of slavery is a _most
serious injury to the habits, manners and morals_ of our white
population - that it leads to sloth, indolence, dissipation, and vice."

Dr. THOMAS COOPER, late President of the College of South Carolina, in
a note to his edition of the "Institutes of Justinian" page 413,
says, -

"All absolute power has a direct tendency, not only to detract from
the happiness of the persons who are subject to it, but to DEPRAVE THE
GOOD QUALITIES of those who possess it..... the whole history of human
nature, in the present and every former age, will justify me in saying
that _such is the tendency of power_ on the one hand and slavery on
the other."

A South Carolina slaveholder, whose name is with the executive
committee of the Am. A.S. Society, says, in a letter, dated April 4,
1838: -

"I think it (slavery) _ruinous to the temper_ and to our spiritual
life; it is a thorn in the flesh, for ever and for ever goading us on
to say and to do what the Eternal God cannot but be displeased with. I
speak from experience, and oh! my desire is to be delivered from it."

Monsieur C.C. ROBIN, who was a resident of Louisiana from 1802 to
1806, published a work on that country; in which, speaking of the
effect of slaveholding on masters and their children, he says: -

"The young creoles make the negroes who surround them the play-things
of their whims: they flog, for pastime, those of their own age, just
as their fathers flog others at their will. These young creoles,
arrived at the age in which the passions are impetuous, do not _know
how to bear contradiction_; they will have every thing done which they
command, _possible or not_; and in default of this, they avenge their
offended pride by multiplied punishments."

Dr. GEORGE BUCHANAN, of Baltimore, Maryland, member of the American
Philosophical Society, in an oration at Baltimore, July 4, 1791,
said: -

"For such are the effects of subjecting man to slavery, that it
_destroys every humane principle_, vitiates the mind, instills ideas
of unlawful cruelties, and eventually subverts the springs of
government." - _Buchanan's Oration_, p. 12.

President EDWARDS the younger, in a sermon before the Connecticut
Abolition Society, in 1791, page 8, says: -

"Slavery has a most direct tendency to haughtiness, and a _domineering
spirit_ and conduct in the proprietors of the slaves, in their
children, and in all who have the control of them. A man who has been
bred up in domineering over negroes, can scarcely avoid contracting
such a habit of haughtiness and domination as will express itself in
his general treatment of mankind, whether in his private capacity, or
in any office, civil or military, with which he may be invested."

The celebrated MONTESQUIEU, in his "Spirit of the Laws," thus
describes the effect of slaveholding upon the master: -

"The master contracts all sorts of bad habits; and becomes _haughty,
passionate, obdurate, vindictive, voluptuous, and cruel_."

WILBERFORCE, in his speech at the anniversary of the London
Anti-Slavery Society, in March, 1828, said: -

"It is _utterly impossible_ that they who live in the administration
of the petty despotism of a slave community, whose minds have been
_warped_ and _polluted_ by that contamination, should not _lose that
respect_ for their fellow creatures over whom they tyrannize, which is
essential in the nature and moral being of man, to rescue them from
the abuse of power over their prostrate fellow creatures."

In the great debate, in the British Parliament, on the African
slave-trade, Mr. WHITBREAD said:

"Arbitrary power would spoil the hearts of the best."

But we need not multiply proofs to establish our position: it is
sustained by the concurrent testimony of sages, philosophers, poets,
statesmen, and moralists, in every period of the world; and who can
marvel that those in all ages who have wisely pondered men and things,
should be unanimous in such testimony, when the history of arbitrary
power has come down to us from the beginning of time, struggling
through heaps of slain, and trailing her parchments in blood.

Time would fail to begin with the first despot and track down the
carnage step by step. All nations, all ages, all climes crowd forward
as witnesses, with their scars, and wounds, and dying agonies.

But to survey a multitude bewilders; let us look at a single nation.
We instance Rome; both because its history is more generally known,
and because it furnishes a larger proportion of instances, in which
arbitrary power was exercised with comparative mildness, than any
other nation ancient or modern. And yet, her whole existence was a
tragedy, every actor was an executioner, the curtain rose amidst
shrieks and fell upon corpses, and the only shifting of the scenes was
from blood to blood. The whole world stood aghast, as under sentence
of death, awaiting execution, and all nations and tongues were driven,
with her own citizens, as sheep to the slaughter. Of her seven kings,
her hundreds of consuls, tribunes, decemvirs, and dictators, and her
fifty emperors, there is hardly one whose name has come down to us
unstained by horrible abuses of power; and that too, notwithstanding
we have mere shreds of the history of many of them, owing to their
antiquity, or to the perturbed times in which they lived; and these
shreds gathered from the records of their own partial countrymen, who
wrote and sung their praises. What does this prove? Not that the
Romans were worse than other men, nor that their rulers were worse
than other Romans, for history does not furnish nobler models of
natural character than many of those same rulers, when first invested
with arbitrary power. Neither was it mainly because the martial
enterprise of the earlier Romans and the gross sensuality of the
later, hardened their hearts to human suffering. In both periods of
Roman history, and in both these classes, we find men, the keen
sympathies, generosity, and benevolence of whose general character
embalmed their names in the grateful memories of multitudes. _They
were human beings, and possessed power without restraint_ - this
unravels the mystery.

Who has not heard of the Emperor Trajan, of his moderation, his
clemency, his gashing sympathies, his forgiveness of injuries and
forgetfulness of self, his tearing in pieces his own robe, to furnish
bandages for the wounded - called by the whole world in his day, "the
best emperor of Rome;" and so affectionately regarded by his subjects,
that, ever afterwards, in blessing his successors upon their accession
to power, they always said, "May you have the virtue and goodness of
Trajan!" yet the deadly conflicts of gladiators who were trained to
kill each other, to make sport for the spectators, furnished his chief
pastime. At one time he kept up those spectacles for 123 days in
succession. In the tortures which he inflicted on Christians, fire
and poison, daggers and dungeons, wild beasts and serpents, and the
rack, did their worst. He threw into the sea, Clemens, the venerable
bishop of Rome, with an anchor about his neck; and tossed to the
famished lions in the amphitheatre the aged Ignatius.

Pliny the younger, who was proconsul under Trajan, may well be
mentioned in connection with the emperor, as a striking illustration
of the truth, that goodness and amiableness towards one class of men
is often turned into cruelty towards another. History can hardly show
a more gentle and lovely character than Pliny. While pleading at the
bar, he always sought out the grievances of the poorest and most
despised persons, entered into their wrongs with his whole soul, and
never took a fee. Who can read his admirable letters without being
touched by their tenderness and warmed by their benignity and
philanthropy: and yet, this tender-hearted Pliny coolly plied with
excruciating torture two spotless females, who had served as
deaconesses in the Christian church, hoping to extort from them matter
of accusation against the Christians. He commanded Christians to
abjure their faith, invoke the gods, pour out libations to the statues
of the emperor, burn incense to idols, and curse Christ. If they
refused, he ordered them to execution.

Who has not heard of the Emperor Titus - so beloved for his mild
virtues and compassionate regard for the suffering, that he was named
"The Delight of Mankind;" so tender of the lives of his subjects that
he took the office of high priest, that his hands might never be
defiled with blood; and was heard to declare, with tears, that he had
rather die than put another to death. So intent upon making others
happy, that when once about to retire to sleep, and not being able to
recall any particular act of beneficence performed during the day, he
cried out in anguish, "Alas! I have lost a day!" And, finally, whom
the learned Kennet, in his Roman Antiquities, characterizes as "the
only prince in the world that has the character of _never doing an ill
action_." Yet, witnessing the mortal combats of the captives taken to
war, killing each other in the amphitheatre, amidst the acclamations
of the populace, was a favorite amusement with Titus. At one time he
exhibited shows of gladiators, which lasted one hundred days, during
which the amphitheatre was flooded with human blood. At another of
his public exhibitions he caused five thousand wild beasts to be
baited in the amphitheatre. During the siege of Jerusalem, he set
ambushes to seize the famishing Jews, who stole out of the city by
night to glean food in the valleys: these he would first dreadfully
scourge, then torment them with all conceivable tortures, and, at
last, crucify them before the wall of the city. According to
Josephus, not less than five hundred a day were thus tormented. And
when many of the Jews, frantic with famine, deserted to the Romans,
Titus cut off their hands and drove them back. After the destruction
of Jerusalem, he dragged to Rome one hundred thousand captives, sold
them as slaves, and scattered them through every province of the

The kindness, condescension, and forbearance of Adrian were
proverbial; he was one of the most eloquent orators of his age; and
when pleading the cause of injured innocence, would melt and overwhelm
the auditors by the pathos of his appeals. It was his constant maxim,
that he was an Emperor, not for his own good, but for the benefit of
his fellow creatures. He stooped to relieve the wants of the meanest
of his subjects, and would peril his life by visiting them when sick
of infectious diseases; he prohibited, by law, masters from killing
their slaves, gave to slaves legal trial, and exempted them from
torture; yet towards certain individuals and classes, he showed
himself a monster of cruelty. He prided himself on his knowledge of
architecture, and ordered to execution the most celebrated architect
of Rome, because he had criticised one of the Emperor's designs. He
banished all the Jews from their native land, and drove them to the
ends of the earth; and unloosed the bloodhounds of persecution to rend
in pieces his Christian subjects.

The gentleness and benignity of the Emperor Aurelius, have been
celebrated in story and song. History says of him, 'Nothing could
quench his desire of being a blessing to mankind;' and Pope's eulogy
of him is in the mouth of every schoolboy - 'Like good Aurelius, let
him reign;' and yet, '_good_ Aurelius,' lifted the flood gates of the
fourth, and one of the most terrible persecutions against Christians
that ever raged. He sent orders into different parts of his empire,
to have the Christians murdered who would not deny Christ. The
blameless Polycarp, trembling under the weight of a hundred years, was
dragged to the stake and burned to ashes. Pothinus, Bishop of Lyons,
at the age of ninety, was dragged through the streets, beaten, stoned,
trampled upon by the soldiers, and left to perish. Tender virgins
were put into nets, and thrown to infuriated wild bulls; others were
fastened in red hot iron chairs; and venerable matrons were thrown to
be devoured by dogs.

Constantine the Great has been the admiration of Christendom for his
virtues. The early Christian writers adorn his justice, benevolence
and piety with the most exalted eulogy. He was baptized, and admitted
to the Christian church. He abrogated Paganism, and made Christianity
the religion of his empire; he attended the councils of the early
fathers of the church, consulted with the bishops, and devoted himself
with the most untiring zeal to the propagation of Christianity, and to
the promotion of peace and love among its professors; he convened the
Council of Nice, to settle disputes which had long distracted the
church, appeared in the assembly with admirable modesty and temper,
moderated the heats of the contending parties, implored them to
exercise mutual forbearance, and exhorted them to love unfeigned, to
forgive one another, as they hoped to be forgiven by Christ. Who would
not think it uncharitable to accuse such a man of barbarity in the
exercise of power? - and yet he drove Arius and his associates into
banishment, for opinion's sake, denounced death against all with whom
his books should afterwards be found, and prohibited, on pain of
death, the exercise, however peaceably, of the functions of any other
religion than Christianity. In a fit of jealousy and rage, he ordered
his innocent son, Crispus, to execution, without granting him a
hearing; and upon finding him innocent, killed his own wife, who had
falsely accused him.

To the preceding maybe added Theodosius the Great, the last Roman
emperor before the division of the empire. He was a member of the
Christian church, and in his zeal against paganism, and what he deemed
heresy, surpassed all who were before him. The Christian writers of
his time speak of him as a most illustrious model of justice,
generosity, magnanimity, benevolence, and every virtue. And yet
Theodosius denounced capital punishments against those who held
'heretical' opinions, and commanded inter-marriage between cousins to
be punished by burning the parties alive. On hearing that the people
of Antioch had demolished the statues set up in that city, in honor of
himself, and had threatened the governor, he flew into a transport of
fury, ordered the city to be laid in ashes, and all the inhabitants to
be slaughtered; and upon hearing of a resistance to his authority in
Thessalonica, in which one of his lieutenants was killed, he instantly
ordered a _general massacre_ of the inhabitants; and in obedience to
his command, seven thousand men, women and children were butchered in
the space of three hours.

The foregoing are a few of many instances in the history of Rome, and
of a countless multitude in the history of the world, illustrating the
truth, that the lodgement of arbitrary power, in the best human hands,
is always a fearfully perilous experiment; that the mildest tempers,
the most humane and benevolent dispositions, the most blameless and
conscientious previous life, with the most rigorous habits of justice,
are no security, that, in a moment of temptation, the possessors of
such power will not make their subjects their victims; illustrating
also the truth, that, while men may exhibit nothing but honor,
honesty, mildness, justice, and generosity, in their intercourse with
those of their own grade, or language, or nation, or hue, they may
practice towards others, for whom they have contempt and aversion, the
most revolting meanness, perpetrate robbery unceasingly, and inflict
the severest privations, and the most barbarous cruelties. But this is
not all: history is full of examples, showing not only the effects of
arbitrary power on its victims, but its terrible reaction on those who
exercise it; blunting their sympathies, and hardening to adamant their
hearts toward _them_, at least, if not toward the human race
generally. This is shown in the fact, that almost every tyrant in the
history of the world, has entered upon the exercise of absolute power
with comparative moderation; multitudes of them with marked
forbearance and mildness, and not a few with the most signal
condescension, magnanimity, gentleness and compassion. Among these
last are included those who afterwards became the bloodiest monsters
that ever cursed the earth. Of the Roman Emperors, almost every one of
whom perpetrated the most barbarous atrocities, Vitellius seems to
have been the only one who cruelly exercised his power from the
_outset_. Most of the other emperors, sprung up into fiends in the
hot-bed of arbitrary power. If they had not been plied with its fiery
stimulants, but had lived under the legal restraints of other men,
instead of going to the grave under the curses of their generation,
multitudes might have called them blessed.

The moderation which has generally distinguished absolute monarchs at
the commencement of their reigns, was doubtless in some cases assumed
from policy; in the greater number, however, as is manifest from their
history, it has been the natural workings of minds held in check by
previous associations, and not yet hardened into habits of cruelty, by

Online LibraryAmerican Anti-Slavery SocietyThe Anti-Slavery Examiner, Omnibus → online text (page 161 of 236)