James Fenimore Cooper.

Notions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) online

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for tkey have given freedom and (essentially) equal
rights to those blacks who remain among them. The
very condensation of the interests of slavery adds,
however, to the difficulty of the subject, since it
makes the loss fall on a comparatively reduced num-
ber. The northern men had to do one of two things ;
to separate their fortunes from a portion of their
countrymen, to whom they were bound by the ties
of fellowship, blood, common interests, and common
descent, or submit to be parties to an union in which
some of the other parties were slave-holders. They
were, in fact, slave-holders themselves, at the time of
the compact, so that it would have been absurd to be
very fastidious in the matter ; and there would have
been but little wisdom in rejecting so much positive
good, in order to assert an abstract principle, that
could be attended with no single practical benefit.
The southern States would have held their slaves,
had the northern refused to have joined them to make
one nation ; and, so far as humanity is concerned, the
negroes would not have been so well off, since the}
now feel the influence of northern policy, while wai
and bloodshed, and all the evils of a dangerous rivalry
that would have arisen between men whom nature
had made friends and brothers, are avoided. In short
this is a reproach against the northern man, that is
more likely to be made by those who view the
Union, and the continued harmony which pervi^des
these vast regions, with unquiet jealousy, than by
any reasoning and practical philanthropist.

As to the southern man himself, he is placed, hke
so many nations of other quarters of the globe, in an
unfortunate predicament, that time and society, and
all the multiplied interests of life, render so difficult


to change. The profession of the southern man is un-
questionably that of equal rights ; and it is undeniable
that he holds the black in slavery : but this does not
involve quite so great an absurdity as one would at
first imagine. The slave-holders of the present day
(viewed as a body) are just as innocent of the crea-
tion of slavery, as their fellow-citizens of New-York
or Connecticut ; and the citizens of New- York or
Connecticut are just as innocent of the creation of
slavery as the citizens of London or Paris. But the
citizens of the two former States have a merit in the
matter, that the citizens of neither of the towns named
can claim, since they have stripped themselves of
property to give freedom to their blacks, while those
who were parties to the original wrong have contrib-
uted nothing to the measure they so much urge. But
IS it not possible to assert a principle under acknow-
ledged Hmitations ? The black man in the southern
States of this Union is not considered a citizen at all.
It would not be safe to consider him a citizen, in a
country of equal political rights, since he is far too
ignorant, and must, for a generation at least, remain
too ignorant, to exercise, with sufficient discretion,
the privileges of a citizen in a free government. It
would, if any thing, be more prudent for the Virginian
and Carolinian to admit boys of twelve years of age
to vote and to legislate, than to admit their blacks, in
their present moral condition, without having any
reference to the danger of a personal dissension.
Equal rights do not, in any part of America, imply a
broad, general, and unequivocal equality. It is the
glory of the institutions of this country, that they have
never run into practical excesses, in order to satisfy
craving theories. By equal rights, the citizen of Con-
necticut, (and, I believe, no man doubts his rational
and unlimited freedom,) understands that all vvho have
reached a certain standard of qualification, shall be
enual in power and that all others shall be equal in
'Vor.. I'L Z


protection. He does not give political power to the
pauper, nor to females, nor to minors, nor to idiots,
nor yet even to his priests. All he aims at is jus-
tice ; and in order to do justice, he gives political
rights to all those who, he thinks, can use them
without abuse. He would be culpable only, if any
class existed in his community, who might, with a
little care, freely enjoy these rights, did he neglect to
resort to that care. He therefore excludes only those
who, on great, general, and lasting principles, are dis-
qualified from exercising political power. The situa-
tion of the Carolinian is different, but his principle is
quite the same : he excludes more ; for, unhappily,
when he arrived at the knowledge and the practice
of a liberal policy himself, he found a numerous class
of human beings existing within his borders, who
were not competent to its exercise. He had but a
choice between a seeming inconsistency, or the entire
abandonment of what he thought a great good. He
chose to make all equal, who could bear equahty;
and in that, he has done exactly what his northern
countryman has done, and no more. Should he un-
necessarily neglect, however, to qualify these excep-
tions to enjoy a better state of being, he then becomes

I think these considerations must lead us to the
conclusion, that most of the merits of this question
lie in the fact of how much has been done and is
now doing, towards effecting a change in what is ad-
mitted to be a prodigious evil. I feel confident that
no discreet father, or husband, or brother, could ask
a Carolinian, who was existing in a state of highly
polished society, and who enjoyed all the advantages
of great moral improvement, to admit, at once, a body
of men who had been nurtured in the habits of slave-
ry, with all their ignorance and animal qualities, and
who are numerically superior, to a participation of
equal political rights. Such a measure would induce


an absolute abandonment of their country and prop-
erty on the part of the whites, or it would involve a
degradation, and abuses that are horrible to reflect
on. Individuals may and have parted with their
means of personal indulgence to give liberty to their
slaves ; but it is too much to expect it from commu-
nities : nor would discreet individuals do it, if it were
to be a general act, since a disorganization of society
would be an inevitable consequence.

The true question, and that in which the friends
of humanity should feel the deepest interest, is that
connected with the steps that are taken to lead to
the general emancipation, which must sooner or later
arrive. ,

At the period of the declaration of the indepen-
dence of the United States, slavery existed in all the
British colonies. The blacks were not numerous in
the northern provinces, for, there, the white was the
better labourer. Still there were slaves in every one
of the thirteen original States of this Union. The
proportion of slaves in some of the middle States
was nearly equal to what it now is in some of the
southern. Massachusetts (which in 1790 had 5,463
blacks,) put such a construction on its own bill of
rights as abolished slavery. This w^as the first measure
of the sort that was ever taken on the American con-
tinent, I presume. The example has been succes-
sively followed, at different periods, by all the north-
ern and middle States, until slavery is either abolished
in fact, or by laws that have a prospective operation,
in nine out of the fourteen States that adopted the
present constitution in 1789. You may form some
idea of the difficulty of getting rid of such an evil as
slavery, by observing the caution with which these
comparatively little encumbered States have ap-
proached the subject. Perhaps twenty years are
necessary to efTect the object humanely, even after
tlie policy of a community is perfectly decided.


Numberless influences have, at the same time,
been at work, however, to extend the hmits in which
slavery might exist. Alabama and Mississippi formed
parts of Georgia ; Kentucky and Tennessee were
w^ithin the ancient limits of Virginia ; and Louisiana,
and Missouri, and the Floridas, were acquired by
purchase. The people of Virginia and Georgia, in
ceding their territory, were not disposed to cede the
right of emigration, with the privilege of carrying
their wealth with them ; and slavery, in consequence,
became extended over the four States named. Slaves
were found in the two others, and in the Floridas.
In this manner the eleven present slave-holding States
came into existence. In the meanwhile, the States
of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, were organized off what
was once called the north-western territory. These,
added to the nine States that had abolished the policy
of slavery, and by the subsequent acquisition of Maine,
brought their whole number up to thirteen.

I think that the influence of free opinions, if I may
so express it, is steadily on the increase. It is not
the smallest evil of slavery, that it begets in the mas-
ter an indifference to its existence, and that it gives
birth and durability to cruel and lasting prejudices.
That these prejudices must be rooted out of the ma-
jority of the citizens of the southern States them-
selves, ere slavery shall cease to exist, is indisputable,
since no power but their own can extinguish it. But
my friend assures me, that within his recollection, an
immense change has taken place in this particular.
Twenty years ago, even in New- York, a general and
deep prejudice existed against this unfortunate class
of human beings. It is rapidly disappearing. It is
true, that the sort of commingling of the races, which
a certain class of philanthropists are much fonder of
proclaiming than they would be fond of practising,
does not occur, nor is it hkely very soon to occur in
this country. Still there is every disposition to do


the blacks justice, though there is none whatever to
mingle the blood. I have heard of instances in which
human beings of pecuhar colour and form were
esteemed in Europe as curiosities ; but I fancj, if
they abounded in any country, there would be found
the same natural desire, in that portion of its in-
habitants who believed themselves to possess the
physical advantage, to retain it, as is now found here.
It is odd enough, that Europe, which, for so many
centuries, has been making patents of nobility ob-
stacles to matrimony, should decry so loudly against a
people who hesitate a little at intermingling colours.

But there will still be a greater objection against
this mingling of the races, for at least a long time to
come. With few exceptions, the blacks of America
belong to an ill-educated and inferior class. When
free, they are left, like other men, to look after their
own interests ; and most of those, who have charac-
ter and talent enough to rise above the condition of
menials, push their fortunes in countries where they
are not daily and hourly offended by the degradation
of their caste. I think this circumstance must long
keep them in a station which will prevent intermar-
riages. You will admit, too, that matrimony is very
much an atlair of taste ; and, although there well
may be, and there are, portions of the world where
white colour is not greatly admired, such is not the
case here. The deep reluctance to see one's pos-
terity exhibiting a hue different from one's own, is to
be overcome, ere any extensive intercourse can oc-
cur between the blacks and the whites.

The probable future fate of the blacks of Ameri-
ca, is a subject of deep and painful interest. I con-
fess, however, I am not one of those who see any
great danger to the whites in their increasing num-
bers. While they remain ignorant, their efforts must
always be feeble and divided, and, as they become
enlightened, they must see the utter impossibility of


any continued success in a rising against a force nu-
merically and morally so superior. Although the
distances in America seem very great on the map,
the inhabitants have contrived the means of bringing
themselves wonderfully near to each other. The
whites in the whole country increase faster than the
blacks ; and I think it will be found, that as emanci-
pations multiply, the disproportion in numbers will
be still greater, and always in favour of the former.
It would not only be the duty of the northern men,
but it would be a duty readily performed, to fly, in
case of need, to the assistance of their southern neigh-
bours. It is not easy to suppose circumstances in
which the white population of the southern States,
already (as a whole) two to one against the slaves,
armed, intelligent, organized, and possessing the im-
mense moral superiority of their domestic relations,
should not be sulRcient of themselves to protect their
persons and property against a rising. The only
circumstances in which the danger could be very im-
minent or extensive, would be in the event of a foreign
war; and then their common country would be a
party, and the aid of States that will shortly number
of themselves twenty or thirty milllions, could be
commanded in their defence.

But the danger of slavery, so far as it is connected
with numbers, has its own cure. No man will keep
a negro after he ceases to be profitable, any more
than he will keep an extra supply of other animal
force. If Carolina can bear 500,000 slaves, Carohna
will probably accumulate that number ; but after she
has reached the point where policy says she must
stop, instead of resorting to laws to retain" her ne-
groes, she will have recourse to laws to get rid of
them. =<This, to an European, and particularly to an
Englishman, who knows that excessive population is
the greatest burthen of his own country, may seem
difiicult; but in order to form a correct opinion of a


question purely American, it is necessary to consider
the actual state of things on this side of the Atlantic.

The already vast, and constantly increasing coast-
ing trade of the United States, offers an easy, natural,
and perfectly practicable drain, to the black popula-
tion of the south. The blacks furnish, already, thou-
sands of sailors, and quite useful sailors too, and they
constitute a very important material of the supply of
seamen, in considering the future commercial and
nautical power of this confederation. The demand
for domestics at the north, too, will, for many years,
continue beyond the probability of a white supply.
You will remember that experience has shown tiiat
the free blacks have very httle natural increase, and
both these growing demands must therefore meet
with most of their supplies from the slave-holding
States. Then, again, the proximity of the West In-
dies, of Mexico, and of the South American States,
in which a commingled population already exists,
olFers facilities for emigration, that Europe does not
present. The slave population of the United States
may reach 4 or 5,000,000, but (after a very short time)
at a diminishing rate of increase,* and then I think it
will be found that new means will be taken to get
rid of them.

In forming these conjectures, I have not regarded
the narrowing of the limits of slavery by the constant
advancement of opinion. It is true, that the surface
on which slavery, in fact, exists, has, on the whole,

* At present the slave-holder has a motive for increasing his
slaves, since he can sell them in the new States; but this de-
mand will, of course, cease as the new States get full- Louisiana
has recently passed a law, prohibiting the importation of slaves;
a fact which the writer thinks proves the truth of his theory.
The reader will always recollect that slaves cannot be imported
into the United States, but that they can be transported iiom
one State to another, unless prohibitions are made by the States
themselves. This was part of the original compact, without
which the southern States would not have consented to the
present constitution


been rather enlarged than otherwise, since the ex
isteoce of the confederation ; but we should not lose
sight of the circumstances under which this extension
of the slave region has been effected.

It has spread with the diffusion of population, over
districts that were originally the property of the slave-
holders; and in no respect, except in mere territorial
division, has there been any virtual enlargement of
its political limits, unless one can thus call the en-
largement of the borders of society. It is true, that
when Missouri was admitted to the Union, an effort
was made by the friends of the blacks (I use the term
technically) to abolish slavery in that State. Had
they succeeded, it would have been an inroad on the
ancient limits ; but their defeat ought not to be deem-
ed an extension of the surface occupied by slaves,
since slaves were there before. It was a sort of at-
tempt to turn the flank of slavery, or to get into its
rear; whereas I think it manifest that the great vic-
tory over habits and prejudices, which true policy
will be sure to gain in time, is to be gained by press-
ing steadily on, in an open, manly, but cautious and
conciliating manner, in its front. Ardent and steady
a friend of universal liberty as you know me to be, I
am by no means sure, that, had I been a member of
that Congress, I would have given so violent an alarm
to the slave-holders of the south, as to have contributed
to attempt to carry that law.

It is only necessary to witness the immense supe-
riority that free labour possesses over slave labour,
and to examine the different conditions of society in
a State without slaves, and in one with, to see that a
close contact must be destructive to the principles
of slavery. The friends of emancipation have now
a noble front, extending from the Atlantic to the Mis-
sissippi. I even think that accident has contributed
to throw those communities most in advance, which
are the least likely to retard the progress of emanci-


pation. The honest and affluent, but quiet popula-
tion of Pennsylvania, for instance, is much less suited
to give the alarm to their neighbours of Maryland,
than would be done by the more restless, ever-busy
people of New-England ; while their example is left
to produce its undiminished effect. If I have been
correctly informed, public opinion and sounder views
of policy are making great progress in the latter State.
The inhabitants begin to see that they would be richer
and more powerful without their slaves than with
them. This is the true entering wedge of argument ;
and juster views of moral truth will be sure to follow
convictions of interest, as they have followed, and
are still following, emancipation further north.

The first and surest sign of a disposition to give
freedom to the slaves, is the accumulation of the free
blacks, since they are not only a positive proof that
emancipation exists, but they argue an indifference
to slavery in the whola community. In Maryland,
there were 145,429 blacks in 1810, and 147,128 i:i
1320. During the same time, the whites increased
from 235,117 to 260,222. Emigration retarded the
increase of the two races, no doubt ; and yet, you
see, contrary to the law of increase in most of the
slave-holding States, the whites grew faster than the
blacks. Now, of this number of 147,128 blacks,
39,730 were free. This is a very large proportion,
and I hail it as a most auspicious omen. In point of
fact, there were 4,109 fewer slaves in Maryland in
1820, than in 1810; while the whites had increased
25,105. Indeed, I heard very many enhghtened and
respectable men in Maryland regret that slavery ex-
isted among them at all ; and the opinion is getting
to be quite common, that free labour is the most
profitable. Even in Virginia, the whites have in-
creased 51,474, during the same ten years, while the
blacks have increased only 38,954. It is true, the
emigration renders these results a little doubtful ; but


the fact that there were, in 1 820, 36,889 free blacks
in Virginia, proves something. It is also of impor-
tance, that there exist, in so many of the slave-holding
States, large bodies of their respective communities,
who have very little interest in the perpetuation of
the evil, except as their own personal welfare is con-
nected with that of society. Although the latter in-
fluence is one of moment, it is also one that may in-
fluence a man both ways, since he may be as likely
to believe that the interests of society call for some
rehef against the evil, as to think he ought to sup-
port it.

I have endeavoured to lay this important subject
before you in a practical form. It has been done
rapidly, and, I am quite certain, very imperfectly. It
is proper to understand, there is so much of intimate
detail necessary to view the state of American slavery
with discretion, that it is highly probable I may have
fallen into error ; but I still think you will find the
views I have taken of it not without some plausibility.
I shall sum them up, together with the leading facts,
in as few words as possible.

I think liberal sentiments towards the blacks are
rapidly gaining ground in most of the southern States.*
Positive, pohtical freedom is granted, or is in the
course of being granted to them, in thirteen of the
twenty-four communities of the confederation. Eman-
cipation, geographically speaking, has now reached
a formidable point of resistance (on account of the
numbers of the slaves,) but it is steadily advancing
through the powerful agency of public opinion.
When it has passed this point, its subsequent march
will, I think, be easier and more rapid. Tennessee
and Kentucky, the States that flank Virginia, have by
no means as deep an interest in the maintenance of

* The writer does not mean that every man becomes in some
degree sensible of the evil, but that a vast number do, and of
men, too, who are likely to have an effect on legislation.


slavery, as the States further south ; and I think it is not
chimerical to hope that, by the aid of prospective laws,
many are now living who may see slavery limited to
the shores of the Atlantic, and to the Gulf of Mexico,
with perhaps a belt for a little distance on each side
of the Mississippi. In the mean time, the advance
of opinion is steady and great. Unless the Christian
world recedes, its tinal success is inevitable. I shall
not incur the charge of empiricism by pretending to
predict the precise period.

1 do not think that slavery, under any circum-
stances, can entail very serious danger to the dominion
of the whites in this country, for at least a century
or two. Districts might be ravaged, beyond a doubt;
but the prodigious superiority of the whites, in every
thing that constitutes force, is the pledge of their

I am of opinion that the number of the slaves
will be hmited, as a matter of course, by necessity.
There is a point beyond which they would be a
burden. Nor is that point so distant as we commonly
imagine. Perhaps it has been already obtained in
some of the older States.

I think that the free black population (except in the
way of emancipation) does not increase, or, at least,
not materially; and that the proportion between the
whites and the blacks is steadily growing in favour
of the former ; that, in future, it will even grow^ faster;
that emigration, the navy, commerce, and unsettled
habits, will tend to repress the increase of the blacks,
and to consume their numbers ; and that the time of
the intermingling of the races to any great extent is
still remote.

Though there is much in these viev/s to excite the
regrets of a man of pure philanthropy, it appears to
me that the cause of emancipation is far from being
as bad as it is generally supposed to be in Europe.


Impatience is a characteristic of zeal. But impa
tience, though creditable to the feelings of the Eu-
ropean, sometimes leads him, on this subject, into
assertions that might provoke comparisons which
would not be so honourable to his own society, per-
haps, as he is apt to fancy, hnpatience, however,
on the part of the American, may even do worse ; it
may retard the very consummation he wishes. Mild-
ness, candour, and conciliation, are his weapons ; and
I think they will be irresistible. Although an ardent
wisher of the happy moment of general emancipation,
I always turn with disgust from those cold and heart-
less paragraphs which occasionally appear in the
northern journals of this country, and which, under

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperNotions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) → online text (page 51 of 58)