Thomas B. (Thomas Brackett) Reed.

Modern eloquence; (Volume 11) online

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obtained as it is wanted, and can be purchased. All the
apprentices working extra hours for hire, and all the free
negroes, wherever their emancipation has been complete,
worked harder by much for the masters who have where-
withal to pay them, than the slave can toil for his owner,
or the apprentice for his master.

Whether we look to the noble-minded colonies which
have at once freed their slaves, or to those who still retain
them in a middle and half-free condition, I have shown
that the industry of the negro is undeniable, and that it is
constant and productive in proportion as he is the director
of its application and the master of its recompense. But
I have gone a great deal further I have demonstrated, by
a reference to the same experience, the same unquestioned
facts, that a more quiet, peaceful, inoffensive, innocent race
is not to be found on the face of this earth than the Afri-
cans, not while dwelling in their own happy country, and
enjoying freedom in a natural state under their own palm-
trees and by their native streams, but after they have been


torn away from it, enslaved, and their nature perverted in
your Christian land, barbarized by the policy of civilized
states ; their whole character disfigured, if it were possible
to disfigure it; all their feelings corrupted, if you could
have corrupted them. Every effort has been made to spoil
the poor African, every source of wicked ingenuity ex-
hausted to deprave his nature, all the incentives of miscon-
duct placed around him by the fiendlike artifice of Christian
civilized men, and his excellent nature has triumphed over
all your arts; your unnatural culture has failed to make it
bear the poisonous fruit that might well have been expected
from such abominable husbandry; though enslaved and tor-
mented, degraded and debased, as far as human industry
could effect its purpose of making him bloodthirsty and
savage, his gentle spirit has prevailed, and preserved, in
spite of all your prophecies, aye, and of all your efforts,
unbroken tranquillity over the whole Caribbean chain !

Have I not proved my case? I show you that the whole
grounds of the arrangement of 1833, the very pretext for
withholding complete emancipation alleged incapacity for
labor and risk of insurrection utterly fail. I rely on your
own records; I refer to that record which cannot be averred
against. I plead the record of your own statute. On what
ground does its preamble rest the necessity of the intermedi-
ate or apprentice state, all admitting that nothing but neces-
sity would justify it?

" Whereas, it is expedient that provision should be made, promo-
ting the industry and securing the good conduct of the manumitted

Those are the avowed reasons for the measure, those its
only defense. All men confessed that were it not for the
apprehension of liberated slaves not working] voluntarily,
and not behaving peaceably, of slavery being found to have
unfitted them for industry, and of a sudden transition to
perfect freedom being fraught with danger to the peace of
society, you had no right to make them indentured appren-
tices, and must at once get them wholly free. But the fear
prevailed, which by the event I have now a right to call a
delusion, and the apprenticeship was reluctantly agreed to.

The delusion went further. The planter succeeded in


persuading us that he would be a vast loser by the change,
and we gave him twenty millions sterling money to indem-
nify him for the supposed loss. The fear is found to be
utterly baseless, the loss is a phantom of the brain, a shape
conjured up by the interested parties to frighten our weak
minds, and the only reality in this mockery is the payment
of that enormous sum to the crafty and fortunate magician
for his incantations. The spell is dissolved, the charm is
over, the unsubstantial fabric of calculating alarm, reared
by the colonial body with our help, has been crushed to
atoms, and its fragments scattered to the world.

And now, I ask, suppose it had been ascertained in 1833,
when you made the apprenticeship law, that those alarms
were absolutely groundless, the mere phantom of a sick
brain, or contrivance of a sordid ingenuity, would a single
voice have been raised in favor of the intermediate state?
Would the words "indentured apprenticeship" ever have
been pronounced? Would the man have been found endued
with the courage to call for keeping the negro in chains one
hour after he had been acknowledged entitled to his free-

My lords, I cannot better prove the absolute necessity
of putting an immediate end to the state of apprenticeship
than by showing what the victims of it are daily fated to
endure. The punishments inflicted are of monstrous sever-
ity. The law is wickedly harsh ; its execution is committed
to hands that exasperate that cruelty. For the vague,
undefined, undefinable offense of insolence, thirty-nine
lashes; the same number for carrying a knife in the pocket;
for cutting the shoot of a cane plant, fifty lashes, or three
months' imprisonment in that most loathsome of all dun-
geons, a West Indian jail.

There seems to have prevailed at all times among the
lawgivers of the slave colonies a feeling of which I grieve
to say those of the mother country have partaken: that
there is something in the nature of a slave, something in
the disposition of the African race, something in the habits
of those hapless victims of our crimes, our cruelties, and
frauds, which requires a peculiar harshness of treatment
from their rulers, and makes what in other men's cases we
call justice and mercy cruelty to society, and injustice to


the law in theirs, inducing us to visit with the extremity of
rigor in the African what, if done by our own tribes, would
be slightly visited, or not at all, as though there were in the
negro nature something so obdurate that no punishment
with which they can be punished would be too severe.

Prodigious, portentous injustice ! As if we had a right
to blame any but ourselves for whatever there may be of
harshness or cunning in our slaves; as if we were entitled
to visit upon him that disposition, were it obdurate those
habits, were they insubordinate those propensities, were
they dishonest (all of which I deny them to be, and every
day's experience justifies my denial) ; but were those charges
as true as they are foully slanderous and absolutely false, is
it for us to treat our victims harshly for failings or for faults
with which our treatment of him has corrupted and per-
verted his nature, instead of taking to ourselves the blame,
punishing ourselves at least with self-abasement, and
atoning with deepest shame for having implanted vice in
a pure soil?

If some capricious despot were, in the career of ordinary
tyranny, to tax his pampered fancy to produce something
more monstrous, more unnatural than himself; were he to
graft the thorn upon the vine, or place the dove among
vultures to be reared, much as we might marvel at this freak
of a perverted appetite, we should marvel still more if we
saw tyranny, even its own measure of proverbial unreason-
ableness, and complain because the grape was not gathered
from the thorn, or because the dove so trained had a thirst
for blood. Yet this is the unnatural caprice, this the injus-
tice, the gross, the foul, the outrageous, the monstrous, the
incredible injustice of which we are daily and hourly guilty
toward the whole of the ill-fated African race !

My lords, we fill up the measure of this injustice by
executing laws wickedly conceived in a yet more atrocious
spirit of cruelty. Our whole punishments smell of blood.
Let the treadmill stop from the weary limbs and exhausted
frames of the sufferers no longer having the power to press
it down the requisite number of turns in a minute, the lash
instantly resounds through the mansion of woe! Let the
stone spread out to be broken not crumble fast enough
beneath the arms already scarred, flayed, and wealed by


the whip, again the scourge tears afresh the half-healed
flesh !

My lords, I have had my attention directed within the
last two hours to the new mass of papers laid on our table
from the West Indies. The bulk I am averse to break, but
a sample I have culled from its hateful contents. Eleven
females were punished by severe flogging, and then put on
the treadmill, where they were compelled to ply until ex-
hausted nature could do no more. When faint and about
to fall off, they were suspended by the arms in such a man-
ner that has been described to me by a most respectable
eye-witness of similar scenes, but not so suspended as that
the mechanism could revolve clear of their person ; for the
wheel at each turn bruised and galled their legs, till their
sufferings had reached the pitch when life can no longer
even glimmer in the socket of the weary frame. In the
course of a few days these wretched beings "languished,"
to use the language of our law that law which is so con-
stantly and systematically violated and, "languishing,

Ask you if crimes like these, murderous in their legal
nature as well as frightful in their aspect, passed unnoticed ;
if inquiry was neglected to be made respecting those deaths
in a prison? No such thing! The forms of justice were on
this head peremptory even in the West Indies, and those
forms, the handmaids of justice, were present, though their
sacred mistress was far away. The coroner duly attended,
his jury were regularly empaneled; eleven inquisitions were
made in order, and eleven verdicts returned. Murder?
Manslaughter? Misdemeanor? Misconduct? No! but
"Died by the visitation of God"! Died by the visitation
of God ! A lie ! a perjury ! a blasphemy !

The visitation of God! Yes; for it is among the most
awful of these visitations by which the inscrutable purposes
of His will are mysteriously accomplished, that He some-
times arms the wicked with power to oppress the guiltless ;
arid, if there be any visitation more dreadful than another,
any which more tries the faith and vexes the reason of
erring mortals, it is when heaven showers down upon the
earth the plague not of scorpions, or pestilence, or famine,
or war but of unjust judges or perjured jurors wretches


who pervert the law to wreak their personal vengeance or
compass their sordid ends, and forswear themselves on the
gospels of God, to the end that injustice may prevail and
the innocent be destroyed :

"Sed nos immensum spatiis confecimus sequor,
Et jam tempus equis spumantia solvere colla." *

I hasten to a close. There remains little to add. It is,
my lords, with a view to prevent such enormities as I have
feebly pictured before you, to correct the administration of
justice, to secure the comforts of the negroes, to restrain the
cruelty of the tormentors, to amend the discipline of the
prisons, to arm the governors with local authority over the
police it is with those views that I have formed the first
five of the resolutions now upon your table, intending they
should take effect during the very short interval of a few
months which must elapse before the sixth shall give com-
plete liberty to the slave.

I entirely concur in the observation of Mr. Burke, re-
peated and more happily expressed by Mr. Canning, that
the masters of slaves are not to be trusted with making
laws upon slavery; that nothing they do is ever found effect-
ual ; and that if by some miracle they even chance to enact
a wholesome regulation, it is always found to want what
Mr. Burke calls "the executory principle"; it fails to exe-
cute itself.

But experience has shown that when the lawgivers of
the colonies find you are firmly determined to do your duty,
they anticipate you by doing theirs. Thus, when you an-
nounced the bill for amending the Emancipation Act, they
outstripped you in Jamaica, and passed theirs before you
could reach them.

Let, then, your resolutions only show you to be in good
earnest now, and I have no doubt a corresponding dispo-
sition will be evinced on the other side of the Atlantic.
These improvements are, however, only to be regarded as
temporary expedients, as mere palliatives of an enormous
mischief for which the only efficient remedy is that com-

* " We have traversed the boundless spaces of the desert,
And the time has come to unyoke our foaming steeds."


plete emancipation which I have demonstrated by the un-
erring and incontrovertible evidence of facts, as well as the
clearest deductions of reason, to be safe and practicable,
and, therefore, proved to be our imperative duty at once to

From the instant that glad sound is wafted across the
ocean, what a blessed change begins; what an enchanting
prospect unfolds itself! The African, placed on the same
footing with other men, becomes in reality our fellow citizen
to our feelings, as well as in his own nature, our equal, our
brother. No difference of origin or color can now prevail
to keep the two castes apart. The negro, master of his
own labor only induced to lend his assistance if you make
it his interest to help you, yet that aid being absolutely
necessary to preserve your existence becomes an essential
portion of the community, nay, the very portion upon which
the whole must lean for support.

This insures him all his rights; this makes it not only
no longer possible to keep him in thraldom, but places him
in a complete and intimate union with the whole mass of
colonial society. Where the driver and the jailer once bore
sway, the lash resounds no more, nor does the clank of the
chain anymore fall upon the troubled ear; the fetter has
ceased to gall the vexed limb, and the very mark disappears
which for a while it had left. All races and colors run
together the same glorious race of improvement. Peace
unbroken, harmony uninterrupted, calm unruffled, reign in
mansion and in field, in the busy street and the fertile val-
ley, where Nature, with the lavish hand she extends under
the tropical sun, pours forth all her bounty profusely, be-
cause received in the lap of cheerful industry, not extorted
by hands cramped with bonds.

So now the fulness of time is come for at length dis-
charging our duty to the African captive. I have demon-
strated to you that everything is ordered every previous
step taken all safe, by experience shown to be safe, for
the long-desired consummation. The time has come, the
trial has been made, the hour is striking; you have no
longer a pretext for hesitation or faltering or delay. The
slave has shown, by four years' blameless behavior and
devotion to the pursuits of peaceful industry, that he is as


fit for his freedom as any English peasant, aye, or any lord
whom I now address.

I demand his rights ; I demand his liberty without stint.
In the name of justice and of law, in the name of reason,
in the name of God, who has given you no right to work
injustice, I demand that your brother be no longer trampled
upon as your slave ! I make my appeal to the commons,
who represent the free people of England, and I require at
their hands the performance of that condition for which
they paid so enormous a price that condition which all
their constituents are in breathless anxiety to see fulfilled !
I appeal to this House! Hereditary judges of the first
tribunal in the world, to you I appeal for justice ! Patrons
of all the arts that humanize mankind, under your protec-
tion I place humanity herself ! To the merciful sovereign
of a free people, I call aloud for mercy to the hundreds of
thousands for whom half a million of her Christian sisters
have cried out ; I ask that their cry may not have risen in
vain. But, first, I turn my eye to the Throne of all justice,
and, devoutly humbling myself before Him who is of purer
eyes than to behold such vast iniquities, I implore that the
curse hovering over the head of the unjust and the oppressor
be averted from us, that your hearts may be turned to
mercy, and that over all the earth His will may at length
be done!



[William Jennings Bryan, an American political leader, was born
in Illinois in 1860. He received a collegiate education in his native
state and studied law, which he practiced for some years in Illinois,
and then settled in Nebraska. He was successful in building up a
practice, and equally successful in acquiring an influence in political
affairs. He was elected to Congress as an advocate of bimetalism for
two terms, but the crisis in the Democratic party, precipitated by its in-
ternal dissensions over the financial question, prevented his rise to a
position of leadership until 1896. In that year the Democratic Na-
tional Convention placed him in nomination for the presidency. He
was defeated, notwithstanding the fact that he had the nomination
of the People's Party, supposed to be powerful in some of the Western
states. Four years later he was again defeated for the presidency as
the Democratic and Populist candidate. The following speech was
made in the House of Representatives in 1894, and was considered an
eloquent presentation of the arguments in favor of an income tax.]

MR. CHAIRMAN: If this were a mere contest in
oratory, no one would be presumptuous enough to
dispute the prize with the distinguished gentleman from
New York [Mr. Cockran] ; but clad in the armor of a right-
eous cause, I dare oppose myself to the shafts of his genius,
believing that "pebbles of truth" will be more effective
than the "javelin of error," even when hurled by the giant
of the Philistines. [Applause.] What is this bill which
has brought forth the vehement attack to which we have
just listened? It is a bill reported by the Committee on
Ways and Means, as the complement of the tariff bill. It,
together with the tariff measure already considered, pro-
vides the necessary revenue for the support of the govern-
ment. The point of attack is the income tax, individual
and corporation (which is expected to raise about $30,000,-


ooo), and to that I will devote the few minutes which are
allowed for closing the debate.

The gentleman from New York insists that sufficient
revenue will be raised from the tariff schedules, together
with the present internal revenue taxes, and that it is there-
fore unnecessary to seek new objects for taxation. In this
opinion he is not supported by the other members of the
committee, and we have been constrained to follow our
own judgment rather than his. The internal revenue bill
which is now pending as an amendment to the tariff bill
imposes a tax of 2 per cent, upon the net incomes of cor-
porations, and in the case of corporations no exemption is

I need not give all the reasons which led the committee
to recommend this tax, but will suggest two of the most
important. The stockholder in a corporation limits his
liability. When the statute creating the corporation is
fully complied with, the individual stockholder is secure,
except to the extent fixed by the statute, whereas the entire
property of the individual is ordinarily liable for his debts.
Another reason is that corporations enjoy certain privileges
and franchises. Some are given the right of eminent do-
main, while others, such as street-car companies, are given
the right to use the streets of the city a franchise which
increases in value with each passing year. Corporations
occupy the time and attention of our federal courts and
enjoy the protection of the Federal government, and as
they do not ordinarily pay taxes, the committee felt justi-
fied in proposing a light tax upon them.

Some gentlemen have accused the committee of showing
hostility to corporations. But, Mr. Chairman, we are not
hostile to corporations ; we simply believe that these crea-
tures of the law, these fictitious persons, have no higher or
dearer rights than the persons of flesh and blood whom God
created and placed upon His footstool. [Applause.] The
bill also imposes a tax of 2 per cent, upon individual incomes
in excess of $4,000. We have proposed the maximum of
exemption and the minimum of rate. The principle is not
new in this country. For nearly ten years, during and
after the war, an income tax was levied, varying from 2.1/2
to 10 per cent., while the exemption ranged from $600 to



$2,000. In England the rate for 1892 was a little more
than 2 per cent., the amount exempt $750, with an addi-
tional deduction of $600 on incomes of less than $2,000.
The tax has been in force there in various forms for more
than fifty years.

In Prussia the income tax has been in operation for
about twenty years ; incomes under 900 marks are exempt,
and the tax ranges from less than I per cent, to about 4 per
cent., according to the size of the income.

Austria has tried the income tax for thirty years, the
exemption being about $113, and the rate ranging from
8 per cent, up to 20 per cent.

A large sum is collected from an income tax in Italy;
only incomes under $77.20 are exempt, and the rate runs
up as high as 13 per cent, on some incomes.

In the Netherlands the income tax has been in operation
since 1823. At present, incomes under $260 are exempt,
and the rate ranges from 2 per cent, to 3 1-5 per cent., the
latter rate being paid upon incomes in excess of $3,280.

In Zurich, Switzerland, the income tax has been in
operation for more than half a century. Incomes under
$100 are exempt, and the rate ranges from about I per
cent, to almost 8 per cent., according to the size of the

It will thus be seen that the income tax is no new de-
vice, and it will also be noticed that the committee has pro-
posed a tax lighter in rate and more liberal in exemption
than that imposed in any of the countries named.

If I were consulting my own preference I would rather
have a graduated tax, and I believe that such a tax could
be defended not only upon principle, but upon grounds of
public policy as well ; but I gladly accept this bill as offer-
ing a more equitable plan for making up the deficit in our
revenues than any other which has been proposed. The
details of the bill will be discussed to-morrow under the five-
minute rule, and any necessary changes can be made.

The committee presents the bill after careful consider-
ation, but will cheerfully accept any changes which the
wisdom of the House may suggest. The bill not only ex-
empts from taxation, but from annoyance as well, every
person whose income is below $3,500. This is an impor-


tant feature of the bill. In order to guard against fraud the
bill provides that every person having an income of more
than $3,500 shall make a return under oath, but no tax is
collected unless the net income exceeds $4,000. The bill
also provides severe penalties to restrain the tax-collector
from disclosing any information gained from the returns
made by citizens.

And now, Mr. Chairman, let us consider the objections
which have been made. The gentleman from New York
[Mr. Bartlett] who addressed the House this forenoon,
spent some time in trying to convince us that, while the
Supreme Court had without dissent affirmed the constitu-
tionality of an income tax, yet it might at some future
time reverse the decision, and that, therefore, this bill
ought to be rejected. This question has been settled
beyond controversy. The principle has come before the
court on several occasions, and the decisions have always
sustained the constitutionality of the income tax. [Hylton
vs. United States, 3 Ball., 171; Deasie Bank vs. Fenno,
8 Wall., 533 ; Scholey vs. Rew, 23 Wall., 331 ; Pacific Insur-
ance Company vs. Soule, 7 Wall., 433.]

In Springer vs. United States [102 United States, 586]
the question was directly raised upon the law in force from
1863 to 1873, and the court held that the income tax as
then collected was not a direct tax within the meaning of
the Constitution, and therefore need not be apportioned
among the states according to their population.

But gentlemen have denounced the income tax as class
legislation, because it will affect more people in one section
of the country than in another. Because the wealth of the
country is, to a large extent, centered in certain cities and
states does not make a bill sectional which imposes a tax in
proportion to wealth. If New York and Massachusetts
pay more tax under this law than other states, it will be
because they have more taxable incomes within their bor-

Online LibraryThomas B. (Thomas Brackett) ReedModern eloquence; (Volume 11) → online text (page 34 of 43)