James Henry Hammond.

Gov. Hammonds Letters on Southern Slavery online

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Hammond, James Henry, 1807 - 1864.

Gov. Hammond's letters on southern slavery:

Addressed to Thomas Clarkson, the English

abolitionist. [Charleston, 1845]






No. 1.

Introduction — the. Slave Trade, and futile attempts to abolish it — Prescriptive
Right — Slavery in the Abstract — in its Moral and Religious Aspect — in its Po^
litical Inpiences, as affecting Public Order, and the Safety and Power of the

' Silver Bluff, S. C, Jan. 28, 1845.
Sir : — I received a short time ago, a letter from the Rev. Willoughby M.
Dickinson, dated at your residence, "Playford Hail, near Ipswich, 26th Nov., 1844,"
in which was enclosed a copy of your Circular Letter addressed to professing
Christians in our Northern States, having no concern with Slavery, and to others
there. I presume that Mr. Dickinson's letter was written with your knowledge
and the document enclosed with your consent and approbation. I therefore feel that
there is no impropriety in my addressing my reply directly to yourself, especially as
there is nothing in Mr. Dickinson's communication requiring serious notice. —
Having abundant leisure, it will be a recreation to me to devote a portion of it to
an examination and free discussion of the question of Slavery as it exists in our
Southern States: and since you have thrown down the gauntlet to me, I do not
hesitate to take it up.

Familiar as you have been with the discussions of this subject in all its aspects,
and under all the excitements it has occasioned for sixty years past, I may not be
able to present much that will be new to you. Nor ought I to indulge the hope of
materially affecting the opinions you have so long cherished, and so zealously pro-
mulgated. Still lime and experience have developed facts, constantly furnishing fresh
tests to opinions formed sixty years since, and continually placing this great question
in points of view, which could scarcely occur to the most consummate intellect even
a quarter of a century ago: and which may not have occurred yet to those whose
previous convictions, prejudices and habits of thought have thoroughly and perma-
nently biased them to one fixed way of looking at the matter: While there are pe-
culiarities in the operation of every social system, and special local as well as moral
causes materially affecting it which no one, placed at the distance you are from us,
can fully comprehend or properly appreciate. Besides, it may be possibl}^ a novelty
to you to encounter one who conscientiously Vjelieves the domestic Slavery of these
States to be not only an inexorable necessity for the present, but a moral and hu-
mane institution, productive of the greatest political and social advantages, and who
is disposed as I am, to defend it on these grounds.

I do not propose, however, to defend the African Slave Trade. That is no longer
a question. Doubtless great evils arise from it as it has been, and is now conducted:

2 Gov. Hammonas Letters on Souf/wm Slaveiy.

uiinecesstiry wars and cruel kidnapping in Africa: the most shocking barbarities in
the Middle Passage: and perhaps a less humane system of slavery in countries con-
tinually supplied with fresh laborers at a cheap rate. The evils of it, however, it
may be fairly presumed, are greatly exaggerated. And if I might judge of the truth
of transactions stated as occuring in this trade, by that of those reported as trans-
piring among us, I should nut ln.'sitate to say that a large proportion of the stories in
circulation are unfounded, and most of the remainder highly colored.

On the passage of the Act of i*arliament pr(diii)iting this trade to British subjects
rests what you esteem ihe glory of your life. It re([uired twenty years of arduous
agitation, and the intervening extraordinary political events, to convince your coun-
trymen, and among the rest your pious King, of the expediency of this measure:
and it is but just to say, that no individual rendered more essential service to the cause
than you did. In reflecting on the subject, you must often ask yourself: What
alter all has been accomplished; how much himian sullering has been averted; how
many human beings have been rescued from transatlantic slavery? And on the an-
swers you can give these questions, must in a great measure I presume, depend the
happiness of your life. In framing them, how frequently must you be reminded of
the remark of Mr. Grosvenor, in one of the early debates upon the subject, which
I believe you have yourself recorded, "that he had twenty o])jections to the abolition
of the Slave Tiade: the first was, (hat it vas impossible — the rest he need not
give." Can you say to yourself, or to the world, that thh first objection of Mr.
Grosvenor has been yet confuted? It was estimated at the commencement of your
agitation in 1787, that forty-five thousand Africans were annually transported to
America and the West Indies. And the mortality of the Middle Passage, computed
by some at 5, is now admitted not to have exceeded 9 per cent. Notwithstanding
your Act of Parliament, the previous abolition by the United States, and that all the
powers in the world have subsequently prohibited this trade — some of the graatest
of them declaring it piracy, and covering the African seas with armed vessels to
prevent it — Sir Thomas Fowel Buxton, a coadjutor of yours, declared in 1840, that
the number of Africans now annually sold into slavery l)eyond the sea, amounts, at
the very least, to one hundred and fifty thousand souls; while the mortality of the
Middle Passage has increased, in consequence of the measures taken to suppress
the trade, to 25 or 30 per cent. And of the one hundred and fifty thousnnd slaves
who have been captured and liberated by British men of war since the passage of
your Act. Judge Jay, an American abolitionist, asserts that one hundred thousand, or
two-thirds, have perished between their capture and liberation. Does it not really
seem that Mr. Grosvenor was a prophet? That though nearly all the "impossibili-
ties" of 1787 have vanished, and become as familiar /):/c/.? as our household customs,
under the magic influence of steam, cotton and universal peace, yet this wonderful
prophecy still stands, def\ ing tiiiit; and the energy and genius of mankind. Thou-
sands of valuable lives and fifty millions of pounds sterling have been given away by
your government in fi uitless attemp.s to overturn it. I hope you have not lived too
long for your own happiness, though you have been spared to see that in spite of all
your toil and of your fellow laborers, and the accomplishment of all that human
agency could do, the African Slave Trade has increa.sed three-fold under your own
?yes — more rapidly, perhaps, than any other ancient branch of commerce — and that
your efforts to suppress it, have effected nothing more than a three-f()ld increase of
its horrors. 'J'here is a God who rules this world — all powerfiil — far-seeing. He
does not permit His creatures to fijil His designs. It is He who, for His allwise,
though to us oflen inscrutable purposes, throws ''imposibilities" in the way of our
fondest hopes and most strenuous exertions. Can you doubt tbis.^

Experience having settled the |)oint, that this Trade cannot be abolished by the
tise of force, and that blockading squadrons serve only to make it more profitable and
more cruel, I am surprised that the attempt is persisted in, unless as it serves as a
cloak to some other purposes. It would be far better than it now is, tor the African,
if the trade was free from all restrictions, and left to the mitigation and decay which
time and competition would surely Ijring about. If kidnap[)ing, both secretly and
by war made for the purpose, could bo by any means prevented in Africa, the next


^f Gov. Hammond's Letters uii Southern Slavoy. 3

, greatest blessing you could bestow upon that country, would be to transport its ac
V, tual slaves in comfortable vessels across the Atlantic. Though they might be per-
v; petual bondsmen, still they would emerge from darkness into light — from barbarism
^ to civilization — from idolatry to Christianity — in short from death to life.

But let us leave the African slave trade, wliich has so signally defeated the Phi-
lanthropy of the world, and turn to American slavery, to which you have now di-
rected your attention, and against which a crusade has been preached as enthusiastic
and ferocious as that of Peter the Hermit — destined, I believe, to be about as suc-
cessful. And here let me say, there is not avast difference between the two, though
you may not acknowledge it. The wisdom of ages has concurred in the justice and
expediency of establishing rights by prescriptive use, however tortious in their ori-
gin they may have been. Yon would deem a man insane whose keen sense of equi-
ty would lead him to denounce your right to the lands you hold, and which
perhaps you inherited from a long line of ancestry, 1) your title was derived
from a Saxon or Norman conqueror, and your lands were originally wrested by
violence from the vanquished Briton^;. And so would the New England Abolitionist
regard any one who would insist that he should restore his farm to the descendants
of the slaughtered Red men, to whom, God has as clearlv given it, as he gave life
and freedom to the kidnapped African. That time does not consecrate wrong, is a
fallacy which all history exposes; and which the best and wisest men of all ages
and professions of religious faith, have practically denied. The means, therefore,
whatever they may have been, by which the African race now in this country, have
been reduced to slavery, cannot affect us, since they are our property, as your land is
yours, by inheritance or purchase and prescriptive right. You will say that man
cannot hold properly in man. The answer is. that he can, and actually does hold
property in his fellow all the world over, in a variety of forms, and has always done
30. I will show presently his authority for doing it.

If you were to ask me whether I was an advocate of slavery in the abstract, I
should probably answer, that I am not, according to my understanding of the question.
I do not like to deal in abstractions; it seldom leads to any useful ends. There are
few universal truths. I do not now remember any single moral truth universally ac-
knowledged. We have no assurance that it is given to our finite understanding to
Comprehend abstract moral truth. Apart from Revelation and the Inspired writings,
what ideas should we have even of God, Salvation and Immortality? Let the Heathen
answer. Justice itself is impalpable as an abstraction, and abstract liberty the mer-
est phantasy that ever amused the imagination. This world was made for man, and
man for the world as it is. Ourselves, our relations with one another, and with all
matter, are real, not ideal. I might say that I am no more in favor of slavery in the
abstract, than I am of povery, disease, deformity, idiocy or any other inequality in
the condition of the human family; that I love perfection, and think I should enjoy a
Milleniutn such as God has promised. But what would it amount to? A pledge that
I would join you to set about eradicating those apparently inevitable evils of our na-
ture, in equalizing the condition of all mankind, consummating the perfection of our
race, and introducing the Millenium? By no means. To effect these things belongs
exclusively to a higher power, and would be well for us to leave the Almighty to
perfect His own works and fulfil His own covenants. Especially, as the history of
all the past shows how entirely futile all human efforts have proved, when made for
the purpose of aiding Him in carrying out even His revealed designs, and how inva-
rially he has accomplished them by unconscious instruments, and in the face of human
expectation. Nay more, that every attempt which has been made by fallible man
to extort from the world obedience to his "abstract" notions of right and wrong, has
been invariably attended with calamities, dire and extended, just in proportion to the
breadth and vigor of the movement. On slavery in the abstract then, it would not
be amiss to have as little as possible to say. Let us contemplate it as it is. And
thus contemplating it, the first question we have to ask ourselves is, whether it is con-
trary to the Will of God, as revealed to us in His holy scriptures — the only certain
means given us to ascertain His will. If it is, then slavery is a sin; and I admit at
once that every man is bound to set his face against it, and to emancipate his slaves,
should he hold any.

4 Gov Hammond's Letters on Southern Slavery.

Let us open these holy scriptures. In the 20th chapter of Exorlus, 17th verse, I
find the following words: "Thou shall not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not
covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his man servant, nor his maid servant, nor his ox, nor
his ass, nor any tiling that is thy neighbors" — which is the Tentii of those command-
ments which declare the essential principles of the great nxjral law. delivered to
Moses by (Jod himself Now, disregarding all technical and verbal quibbling, as
who![y unworthy to be used in interpreting the Word of God, what is the plain mean-
ing, undoubted intent, and true spirit of this couunandnieni? Does it not emphat
ically and explicitly forbid you to disturb your neighbor in the enjoyment of his pro-
perty; and more especially of that which is here specifically mentioned as being law.
fully and by this commandment made sacredly his/ Prominent in the catalogue
stands his "man servant and his maid servant," who are thus distinctly consecrated as
his property and guarantied to him (or his exclusive benetit in the most solemn man-
ner. You attempt to revert the otherwise irresistible conclusion, that slavery was
thus ordained by God, by declaring that the word "slave" is not used here, and is not
to be found in the Bible. And I have seen many learned dissertations on this point
trom Abolition pens. It is well known that both the Hebrew and Greek words
translated "servant" in the scripture, mean also and most usually "slave." The use
of the one word instead of the other, was a mere matter of taste with the translators
of the Bilile, as it has been with all the commentators and religious writers, the latter
of whom have I believe tor the most part adopted the term "slave," or used both
terms indescriminately. If then, these Hebrew and Greek words include the idea of
both systems of servitude, the conditional and unconditional, they should, as the ma-
jor includes the minor propositions, be always translated "slaves," unless the sense
of the whole text forbiils it. The real question then, is, what idea is intended to be
conveyed by the words used in the commandment quoted? And it is clear to my
mind that as no limitation is affixed to them, and the express intention was to secure
to mankind the peaceful enjoyment of every species of property, that the terms "meu
servants and maid servants" include all classes of servants, and establish a lawful
exclusive and indefeasible interest equally in the "Hebrew brother who shall go out
in the seventh year," and "the yearly hired servant," and "those purchased from the
heathen round about," who were to be "bond-men forever," as the property of their
fellow man. You cannot deny that there were among the Hebrews "Bond-men for-
ever." You cannot deny that God especially authorised his chosen people to pur-
chase "Bond-men forevor" from the Heathen, as recorded in the 2")th chapter of
Leviticus, and that they are there designated by the very Hebrew word used in the
Tenth commandment. Nor can you deny that a "Bond-man for ever" is a "slave;"
yet you endeavor to hang an argument of immortal consequence upon the wretched
subterfuge, that the precise word "slave" is not to be found in the translation of the
Bible; as if the translators were canonical expounders of the Holy Scriptures, and
their words, not God's meaning, must be regarded as His revelation.

It is vain to look to Christ or any of his Apostles to justify such blasphemous per-
versions of the word of God Although slavery in its most revolting form was every
where visible around them, no visionary notions of piety or philanthropy ever tempt-
ed them to gainsay the law, even to mitigate the cruel severity of the existing sys-
tem. On the contrary, regarding slavery as an established as well as inevitable con-
dition of human society, they never hinted at such a thing as its termination on earth,
any more than that "the poor may cease out of the land," which God affirms to Moses
shall never be: and they "exhort all servants under the yoke,'* to "count their mas-
ters as worthy of all honor:" "to obey them in all things according to the flesh; not
with eye-service as men pleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing God:" "not only
the good and gentle, but also the froward:" '-for what glory is it if when ye are buf-
feted for your I'aults, ye shall take it patiently? but if when ye do well and suffer for
it ye take it patiently, this is acceptable of (iod." St. Paul actually apprehended a
runaway slave and sent him to his master! Instead of deriving from the Gospel any
sanction for the work you have undertaken, it woidd beditficult to imagine sentiments
and conduct more striking in contrast than those of the Apostles and Abolitionists.

It is impossible therefore to suppose that slavery is contrary to the will of God.

Gov. Hammond's Letters on Southern Slavery. 5

It is equally absurd to say that American slavery differs in form or principle from
that of the chosen people. We accept the Bible terms as the definition of our slavery,
and its precepts as the guide of our conduct. We desire nothing more. Even the
right to "buffet," which is esteemed so shocUing, finds its express license in the gos-
pel. 1 Pet. ii. 20. Nay, what is more, God directs the Hebrews to "bore holes in
the ears of their brothers" to inark them, when under certain circumstances they be-
come pet'petual slaves: Ex. xxi. 0.

I think, then, I may safely conclude, and I tirmly believe, that American slavery
is not only not a sin, but especially commanded by God through Moses, and approved
by Christ through his apostles. And here I might close its defence; for what God
ordained and Christ sanctifies, should surely command the respect and toleration of
man. But I fear theie has grown up in our time a Transcendental Religion which
is throwing even Transcendental Philosophy into the shade; a religion too pure and
elevated for the Bible; which seeks to erect among men a higher standard of morals
than the Almighty has revealed or our Saviour preached, and which is probably des.
tined to do more t» impede the extension of God's Kingdom on earth than all the
Infidels who have ever lived. Error is error. It is as dangerous to deviate to the right
hand a.sto the left. And when men professing to be holy men, and who are by num-
bers so regarded, declare those things to be sinful which our Creator has expressly
authorized and instituted, they do more to destroy his authority among mankind than
the most wicked can affect by proclaiming that to be innocent which He has forbid-
den. To this self-righteous and self-exalted class belong all the Abolitionists whose
writings I have read. With them it is no end of the argument to prove your propo-
sitions by the test of the Bible, interpreted according to its plain and palpable mean-
ing, and as understood by all mankind for three thousand years before their time.
They are more ingenious in construing and interpolating to accommodate it to their
new-fangled and etherial code of morals, than ever were Voltaire or Hume in picking,
it to pieces to free the world from what they considered a delusion. When the Abo-
litionists proclaim ''man-stealing" to be a sin, and show me that it is so written down
by God, I admit them to be right, and shudder at the idea of such a crime. But when
I show them that to hold "bond-men forever" is ordained by God, they deny the
Bible, and set up in its place a Late of their own making. I must then cease to rea-
son with them on this branch of the question. Our religion differs as widely as our
manners. The (ireat Judge in our day of final account must decide between us.

Turning from the consideration of slave-holding in its relations to man as an ac-
countable being, let us examine it in its influence on his political and social state.
Though, being foreigners to us, you are in no wise entitled to interfere with the
civil institutions of this country; it has become quite common for your countrymen to
decry slavery as an enormous political evil to us, and even to declare that our North-
ern States ought to withdraw from the Confederacy rather than continue to be con-
taminated by it. The American Abolitionists appear to concur fully in these senti-
ments, and a portion at least of them are incessantly threatening to dissolve the
Union. Nor should I be at all surprised if they succeed. It would not be difficult
in mv opinion, to conjecture wiiich region, the North or the South, would suffer most
by such an event. For one, I should not object, by any means, to cast my lot in a
confederacy of States Vvdiose citizens might ail be slave-holders. I indorse without
reserve, the much abused sentiment of Gov. M'Duffie, that "slavery is the corner
stone of our republican edifice;" while I repudiate, as ridiculously absurd, that much
lauded but no where accredited dogma, of Mr. Jefferson, that '"all men are born
equal." No Society has ever yet existed, and I have already incidentally quoted the
highest authority to show that none ever will exist, without a natural variety of class-
es. The most marked of these must in a country like ours, be the rich and the
poor, the educated and the ignorant. It will scarcely be disputed that the very poor
have less leisure to prepare themselves for the proper discharge of public duties than
the rich; and that the ignorant are wholly unlit lor ihem at all. In all countries save
ours, these two classes, or the poor rather, who are presumed to be necessarily igno-
rant, are by law expressly excluded from all participation in the management of
public affairs. In a repudlican Government this cannot be done. Universal suffrage,

6 God. Hammonds Letters on Southern Slavery.

though not essential in theory, Reem<* to he in fact, a necessary appendage to a repub-
lican system. WIumc universal suirraf^c ol)tains, it is obvious that the Government
is in the hands of a numerical mijority; and it is hardly necessary to say, that in
every part oftlie world more than half the people are ignorant and poor. Though no
one can look upon poverty as a crime, and we do not generally hero regard it as any
objection to a man in his individual capacity, still it must bo admitted that it is a
wretched and insecure government which is administered by its most ignorant citi-
zens, ami those who have the least at stake under it. Though intelligence and
wealth have great influence here as everywhere, in keeping in check reckless and
unenlightened numbers, yet it is evident to close observers, if not to all, that these are
rapidly usurping all power in the non-slave-holding States, and threaten a fearful
crisis in Republican Institutions there at no remote period. In the slave-holding
States, however, nearly one half of the whole population, and those the poorest and
most ignorant, have no political influence whatever, because they are slaves. Of
the other halt', a large proportion are both educated and independent in their circum-
stances, while those who unfortunately are not so, being still elevated far above the
mass, are higher toned and more deeply interested in preserving a stable and well
ordered government, than the same class in any other country. Hence, slavery is
tnily the "corner stone" and foundation of every well designed and durable "Repub-
lican edifice."

With us. every citizen is concerned in the maintenance ol order, and in promoting
honesty and industry among those of the lowest class who are our slaves; and our
habitual vigilance renders standing armies, whether of soldiers or policemen, entire-
ly unnecessary. Small guards in our cities, and occasional patrols in the country,
ensure us a repose and security known nowhere else. You cannot be ignorant that
excepting the United States, there is no country in the world whose existing Govern-
ment would not be overturned in a month, l)ut for its standing armies, maintained at

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