Theophilus Parsons.

Slavery. Its origin, influence, and destiny online

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Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1863,

By Theophilus Paksons,

In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts.



There are Done who deny thai Blavery, in Borne way,
and in some sense, is the principal cause <>t' our ■■i\il
war. For they who — abroad or at hom< — allege that
ii is caused by th<' actual and profound diversity between
the two Bections of the country as t<> their interests, their
habits, and their character, do not deny thai this diversity
Bprings mainly from the existence of Blavery in one « • 1 1 1 \-
of the parties. And they who account for it by the
and persistent vehemence of abolitionism, will not deny
that if there were no Blavery t<> be abolished there could
be ii" abolitionism. It is not 1 worth while t<>

ii-.- many words in proving a fact, which the map of our
country demonstrate

But it' it be certain that - - the

central cause of the «'i\il war. it i- \>\ do men
how, or why, this cause has produced this eflR I I

offer for consideration the views I hold on this subject,
it i- because in this country public opinion is a
power, and th»- humblest effort to introduce int<» thi>
opinion what seems to the offerer an element <'t" truth,
Diay at least be pardon* d.

What thru i- Slavery? It- foundation i- the power
of controlling any man without his consent and concur-
rence. The absolute ownership by one man <-t' another
man as it exists a1 the South, is only the perfection
and consummation of this principle. There are •
where immaturity demands guida crime des<

punishment. Putting tit jide, wherever 1 1 1 i —

principle exists and operates, and in whatever
exists, there is that which may !»<• called the

.We are accustomed t<> confine the nam.- t"
absolute ownership. Nor do 1 insist that the use of the


•word slavery should be extended, if only I am understood
as believing that this relation of man to man is but the
completion of a relation which exists in a greater or a
less degree when any man possesses the right to coerce
another into labor for his benefit, without the consent of
that other.

It might seem that this is, in some sort, the condition
of all men ; for even in this busy land, few work except-
ing because they must. But, if we take an extreme
case, it is one thing to be able to say to a man, Work for
me on the terms which I offer, or starve, leaving it to him
to starve if he chooses, and a very different thing, to have
the right to say to him, Work for me on my terms or no
terms, because I command you. These two things differ
in essence ; they are as different, as non-slavery and
slavery. The phrase in our Constitution, " held to labor,"
marks the distinction between one who is held to labor,
and one who is persuaded or induced to labor. This
phrase is, as it was intended to be, an exact definition of
a slave.

If it happens that these words present this idea to any
reader for the first time, it may seem to him visionary, un-
real, and unpractical. And certainly such an idea as that
a legal right of thus compelling service is itself a wrong,
scarcely existed upon earth until a few generations ago.
If it existed in some minds, and was uttered by some
voices, it had nowhere prevalence or recognition. And
to-day it can hardly be said to have definite expression
and acknowledged truth in the old world. All class-right
is, to some extent, opposed to it ; and indeed is founded
upon its opposite. And yet, history, if we permit it to
throw the light of the past upon the present, may teach
us that mankind in all its progress, has been constantly ad-
vancing towards this end, towards the liberation of the hu-
man mind from the thought, and of the human heart from
the desire, of standing over a brother-man as his master and
Ids owner. And a reason why that goodness which has
ever led and watched the advancing footsteps of our race
has guided them in this direction, is, that in proportion as
the thought and desire of ruling over our brother pass
away, they are replaced by the thought and the desire of

standing by hia side and working with him tor a common

Let ns casl a glanc< — a very brief and rapid glana —
at the past. Beginning where history begins, w<

unqualified an<l unquestioned despotism; now L r 1 and

now evil, utterly diverse in character and influence, but
always unquestioned, and unimpeded. This was ami is
the Oriental i<l<-a of government; Gibbon remarks that
: rn languages have no words t<» express any other

] le of government. At length Greece arose, and under

the leading of Alexander, conquered. It was the con-
quest of Europe over Asia; of a European way of think-
ing over Oriental thought : it was a step away from the
Oriental i'l«-;i that despotism was the only cognizable form
of government.

In Greece and Rome, whatever were the abus<
certain ages, there was always th< d ofteu Uie

reality of governing by law. And then the feudal -
;i«l\ anced bo far as to give • his placi . I

man lii- riu'lit-. guch an lh< ad t<»

n<» man the right "f ah all other rights into hi-

own. The feudal system had

The feudal system grew, flourished, ■!. and is

passing away. A step further forward was possible;
bul uot possible in Europe. \. - which had greatly
varied the institutions of feudalism, had indurated them
and the system of thought and fi them;

and clothed them all \\ ith st< ible than

the mail her warrioi v ^ i could

the next Btep 1><- taken, — and America was discos
And in or near the sann real discovery

of gunpowder, which has made it impossible that the
scenes Proissart so loves to paint, where a t-\\ mailed
knights routed and slaughtered at their pleasure m< ;
peasantry, should ever be repeated. And the compass
\\ hich led ( folumbus to America '

of a commerce which has already begun it- \s . -i k of
binding the nations into uuity. And the press was given,
to give wings to thought. And all these discov<

gifts of the same and were given \>>v the

Bame end, as that for which America was discovered and


peopled. This end was — to express it in the fewest
words — that consent might take the place of compulsion,
in all the ranks and regions and work of human society.

To this end this nation was planted in the home made
ready for it ; fostered until it was ready to live in
independence, and then gifted with independence. It
was ready for nationality, and became a nation. And
then came the great American Invention, — greater in
worth, in wisdom, and in its beneficent influence over the
whole future, than all those I have above enumerated ;
the invention of a Constitution.

The word is not a new one. It was applied to political
institutions before we used it, and is now so applied else-
where. But, in its American sense, and in its purpose
and its work, a Constitution had no existence, until it
was called into being for our needs, and our good ; called
into being by the progress of humanity, and for that

It would of course be difficult, or rather, impossible, to
give here a full exposition of the grounds on which an opin-
ion rests, that may seem to many, extravagant. This will
not be attempted. But some illustration of it may be
derived from a comparison between the national feeling
in this country, and that in Europe, on one point; it is,
the loyalty of the nation.

There are those who think this word rightly used in
Europe, with an exact and definite sense ; but that here it
can only be used in a kind of figurative or rhetorical sense.
I think otherwise. Loyalty is everywhere a supreme
political virtue ; if it can have no existence here, we are
most unfortunate. If there be only one form of govern-
ment in which it can exist, the sooner that form of
government becomes ours, the better for us and for our

The word loyal is the English form of the latin legalis.
The feudal vassal, of every rank, was sworn to be Jidelis
et legalis, or faithful and loyal, to his superior. Legalis
is the adjective form of the substantive, lex, law. The
oath then was that he would in good faith acknowledge
and defend all the rights which the law gave to his
superior, and obey all the commands which the law


This i- the original idea, or the abstract idea, of loyalty.
It perhaps never entered into tin- minds of the masses,
and at all events it Boon t<>nk the form of personal
loyalty. Nor is it difficult t«» Bee how this occurred and
why i; was well that it should occur.

The worst thing which can befall a man is to be
delivered up to the unchecked dominion of his own self-

1 d, before that self-h 1 is raised and regenerated into

the perception and the love of bight. " Lord of himself,
a heritage <>t' woe," he cannot then but abuse the mastery
he | to his own destruction. Bui when he is

prepared voluntarily t * » Bubmit himself t<> the law of
right, and lets this law ripen into a love for his neigh-
bor and his neighbor's rights, then a relief from exter-
nal compulsion is the best thing which can happen.
Therefore, that Divine Providence, which by the
sitv of an infinite goodness seeks always the hi*
good, is ever watchful to advance lay he the

preparation «>t' man t « »r this gift, and to ji\e it as he is
prepared, and to withhold it in the degree iu which he \a
no! prepared. Between God and man, as between man

and man. CON8EK1 is better than COMPULSION, and ;ill

progress is from compulsion to consent.
But the child .irilv -nl.

.irilv immature, and unready for self-control. Am! in
the earliest nations which history tells us of, in the childhood
nl' man, this immaturity uplete

that mii\ ersal despotism tted. As

the necessity -j.-w less, despotism was modified; but in
the old \\ mlil. \m- ha\ e no evi . that the peopl

ired for a safe deli • ■ • >\\ er.

The time may . •. possibly it may be near, but il

ome yet. The common phnu •• K og, by the
id," is oof without it- meaning and it- truth. It i-
of the or mere) that kin. . en to

those \\ hi ' Deed Iti

We se< the master) "l" the father over the child, made
tender and useful by the parental love which the Father
of us all awakens in all at the birth of the child. Ami
bo w here it i- neceasar) • le to have a kin-, or per-

sonal so vereigu, governing in hi- own right, it i- a-


sary and useful that there exist among the people a strong
sense of personal loyalty. And it exists in Europe.
Weakened certainly, passing away possibly, but it has
not yet passed away.

And to what can we be loyal ? Let me ask another
question, to what are they in England — to take England
for our illustration — to what are they loyal ? To their
Queen. No one who has been there, or has listened to
the description of what they saw and heard who have
been there, can doubt that there is — not everywhere — but
in vast masses of the English people, an intense feeling of
loyalty to their Queen. A loyalty which would stir their
hearts to their depths and arm their hands with every
weapon they could grasp in her defence. And what is
their Queen ? A symbol and a personification of all law-
ful authority. In the theory of their law, she is its
source ; the judges of the law are her representatives, the
ministers of the law her servants. She is their personal
sovereign ; and she impersonates the sovereignty of the
state ; the preservation of all order ; and the protection of
all property, all industry, all prosperity.

I do not suppose that in all men's minds there is a de-
finite intellectual apprehension of this fact, or that such
ideas are recognized by them as the foundation of their
loyalty. But in many minds these ideas exist, and in
more hearts this feeling would have power. Let there be
a threat to-morrow of an uprising which should shatter
the throne, and multitudes of the English — great multi-
tudes — I know not how many, I do not even assert,
although I believe a great majority of the English, would
feel that if the throne went down, revolution, convulsion,
conflict and distress would fill the land. For they would
feel that if the throne went down, there would go down
with it, for them, the foundation of all law, and all se-
curity for order or for property.

But what have we to be loyal to ? No personal sover-
eign, reigning in his own right. What then have we ?

When our fathers bent to the work of giving form and
order to our nationality, they did not begin with the ap-
pointment of a personal sovereign ; but with something
very different. They selected those whom they thought


their best and wisest, and commissioned them to confer
id discover the fundamental rights for which all

rists, and which underlie and Biistain and promote
all social good : ami tin- principles from which these
rights forever flow. And then t<> devise the best forma
and ml. - for a government which should forever acknowl-
edge ami secure these rights by a constant observant

principles. And the fabric in which all this i- con-
tained and expressed and defined, they called a Constitu-
tion. There it Bt 1. the child of their own will.

Embodying the best wisdom they bad; ami resting on the
consent of all. There it Bto God there it

stands. And this substitution of a written Constitution,

ated, ami bo founded, i-. in my most profound belief,
i political step ever yet taken in human pro-

. and a Btep which He who loves us infinitely will
net er permit t" I « retr

\\ . li\ r in the beginning hich the

characteristic, politically, will be constitutional republican

oment. \) •! already

. difficulties \\ e
know m.i how to meet, mi- ■ <{ how to

M e, w ill come up a- time

rolls ou. But ilii- age, like her <'t' those in his-

tory, will grnduall) — perhaps slowl) aud thrdugh much
error and misfortune — develop itself into the form;

r the fullest "i ■ principle.

And that principle i- and will remain, the substitution «»t
• for ( mpulsion.

I. ei me •_••» back a| to 1 Let

us compare English loyally with our own, as to its grounds
and it- reasonableness. The} are loyal to tl
eign. Victoria, a- queen, a- mother, and a- matron,
commands the respect of all in Ameri< W
was lure, nothing struck me more, and I n thing

touched me more, than the wa\ in which tl „ w.i-

express* d. It -« 1 med as if we fell that the excelh •
1 ah matronhood sat, in her : n the throne of

1 Not a m ord would I - og ha\ e I

which woidd - word in n of this

kuowledgment. But she must die.


may be hoped of him, has as yet only given a promise of
excellence. He too must die. And the lives of his suc-
cessors must be subject to vicissitudes, of which history,
and none more plainly than the History of England, tells
the sad tale. When Victoria's uncle, George IV., sat
on the throne, the loyalty of England was shocked, and
almost killed, by his wickedness, and selfishness, and the
unconcealed foulness of his life and character. When
such another sits there, that loyalty may have a deeper,
even a fatal wound. To such chances and such perils
the personal loyalty of England must submit.

And through all these ages — if we do not prove un-
worthy of so great a blessing — will stand our Constitution.
Not, as some in Europe who speak of it suppose, because it
is fixed and crystallized into forms which may be broken
but cannot change .* The exact opposite of this is the
truth. It is a living organism. It invites and provides
for change. It desires all changes, in all time, which
shall make it ever more able to perform its great func-
tions. But it carefully provides that these changes shall
come only as a common demand, shall be matured by a
common deliberation, and rest on a common consent ;
common, not uuiversal, for that it is too Avise to demand.

That it must be far easier to be loyal when the object of
our loyalty is a person, is certain. It must be a great re-
lief to the human mind, in a certain condition, to have
those principles of order, law, and kight, to which
loyalty is due, impersonated in one who can be recognized
and approached. But the providence of God, as it is
manifested in the progress of humanity, seeks to lift the
human mind above the condition in which it requires this
relief, this assistance. And the great question for us this
day, is, whether the American mind and character are
lifted to the height of our own institutions. If not, we
need, and if we need we shall have, a king.

The very foundation of our existence as a nation is
mutual desire, common consent. It has been too little
noticed, that this nation stands alone on earth in one
characteristic. What other great nation exists, or ever
has existed, from the days of Nimrod the hunter of men,
to this day, which did not acquire its growth and more or


lominion, by conquest, by compulsion ? Various
have been the forms and modes of this compulsion ; but,

me form, it has existed everywhere. Our nation
was formed without one atom of this element.
And it' Texas and California Beem to have been added by
conquest, it was perhaps the introduction of a new ele-
ment ; and it was, at all events, the conquest of the land
only, and not of the people ; and when tin- Bparse popula-
tion we found I •• into a sufficient magnitude, it

i their own request that they were admitted to an
equal share of all our rights, all our advi U our

! DqueSl ami Bubjugation -

to me utterly foreign to the nature and working and life
<»t* our political instituti

But it may be asked h<»v. I el the i

turn within the Union, without conquest and Bubjuga-
tion. What liirlit have we to them at all, if the

\ .iv essential characteristic i
instead ol

I U ernment • upon the prin-

ciple • nt, it must be clearly and practically

understood, thp I j perfectly

\- I have already said, I believe an imn p was

taken in the pi . by the establishment of

<»ur nationality , upon

the print i| ill our institi I lav -

and ii-;u- - musi

I • ! i i i i g


n| : or, again, • actual

existence, when there are made b}

betwi iting parties; made with their consent

and concu \ inded u]

■ . the right and the
l"'\\ er of enfon ments, 01 -. made by the

- ut n|" the parties.

For example. No mat Massachusetts is obligi
buy or t<> -.11 anytfa ; ting at his own pl<

by lii~ own free choice. But it hi to buy or to

sell, and maki at to that effect, then he is


held absolutely, and if need be coercively, to his obliga-
tion ; that is, to deliver what he sells when he is paid, or
to pay for what he buys.

It must be perfectly obvious, that national institutions
cannot be founded upon and characterized by the principle
of consent, unless it is a part of that principle, embodied
in the consent of the whole nation, that when consent
ripens into contract, there shall exist the right, the power
and the duty of enforcing the contract-obligation.

We apply and test this principle continually, in the
smaller matters of e very-day occurrence. We are now
testing the same principle on the largest scale.

All the States, and all the persons iu every State, have
agreed to our national existence and our national insti-
tutions. No matter whether they have formally expressed
their consent, by oath, or voting, or otherwise. They
have lived under them ; profited by them ; received their
share of the good derived from them. And common
sense as well as common law holds them to be estopped
from denying their consent ; their contract.

Rebellion is the last and most consummate violation of
contract-obligation. It is the violation by force of the
contract which is the foundation on which our nationality
rests, and therefore upon which all order, all society, all
contract-obligation rests. And therefore it is a violation
of contract against which the whole force of the nation
should be thrown, with a concentration of all its might,
and with unfaltering energy, and unrelenting determina-

But conquest and subjugation do not enter into my idea
of either our right or our duty; for this plain reason. We
fight only against rebellion ; against the rebels only be-
cause they are and as they are rebels. And as soon as
the rebellion is suppressed, as soon as they cease to be
rebels, they return again within the Constitution ; within
its obligations, Avithin its penalties for Avhatever crimes
they have committed, but also within its protection.

To regard them not as rebels, but as enemies in the
same sense in which strangers at war .with us would be
our enemies, is to declare that rebellion has succeeded ;
has done its work ; has separated them from us.

Bl \\ EKT. 13

I at was the foundati r nationality, bo it

' ostitution which gives to it form and defini-
I very heart a

i stitution, is, that it is the voluntary
>\..rk of all, the expression of the common will, i

^ : and -<» terminating in a common
contract, and a <-<>num'n obligation.

! republicai

Ksi s i . The hei ry i-

( ompi i sion. II -' d( - not exhibit, and the mind of

I "litiral antagonism,
than that bet* republicai ment,

and slavery. Hence this w I this \\ ar

else than this antagonism, utt< off its

« I i ~ lt 1 1 i - . ■ . taking up all thi

I I with ;ill its ftiry, it- slaugh-

ter, it- hatred, and it- sacrifice, is bul of the


i pro-
Bufficii W

almost uov lien*. !

i ■

that l I

three, I



truth would

<\ il. ami f i - ■ • (lom I r. -11.

At that time
this country would

Not i ailed,

nearly J in som< . but 1 1 ■ * - • ij>l<-.


so lately born among men, that it was not well for any
man to have the right of compelling another to act with-
out his own concurrence, was dimly seen and feebly felt.
And therefore the kind and measure of pro-slavery which
claims and loves this right, would have been found potent
everywhere, and all its sympathies would have been, as
they are now and ever must be, with that consummated
slavery which deems it well for a man to own a man.
The conflict would not then have been safe. Our fathers
did well and wisely in not exciting it. They left it for a
future day. It has come in our day. The way in which
it has come is this.

As the years passed on, slavery, from causes all of
which are not obvious, gradually withdrew from a large
part of the country, and gradually became concentrated in
another part ; and thus slavery and non-slavery became to
a great degree separated and distinguished from each

In that part of the country where slavery was concen-
trated, it flourished. It produced an apparent prosperity,
in which the slaves had little share, and the mass of poor
whites round them even less, while it made the few slave-
owners rich in idleness. But while it impoverished and
degraded the poor whites, it fed and gratified their pride
that even in their degradation they could look down with
utter contempt upon a numerous class below them. And
this false and foolish pride kept up in their minds a com-
parison of their condition as freemen with that of the
slaves, and they did not know their degradation ; and they
learned to love slavery, as well as the rich men who were
masters of the slaves without disguise, and masters of the
poor whites under a thin disguise.

The consequence of this was inevitable. That region
became a slave region completely and thoroughly. Not
only was nearly all its wealth slave-wealth, but in about
the same proportion its opinion became a slave-opinion ;
its belief a slave-belief ; its reason a slave-reason ; its
conscience a slave-conscience ; its religion a slave-religion.
Not universally, but prevailingly. And its policy, — for
in this the majority ruled, — became an absolute, unquali-
fied, slave-policy.

8t w l i:v. 15

\ .1 in the meantime how Fared it with the region from

1 3

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