William Ellery Channing.

The complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction online

. (page 129 of 169)
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on a fellow-creature and reduce him to a
brute for selfish gratification. What ! Have
we yet to learn that " it profits us nothing to
gain the whole world, and lose our souls?"

Let it not be repUed, in scorn, that we of
the North, notorious for love of money»
and given to selfish calculation, are not the
people to call others to resign their wealth.
I have no desire to shield the North ; though
I might say, with truth, that a community
more generally controlled by the principles of
morality and religion cannot l)e found. We
have, without doubt, a great multitude who,
were they slave-holders, would sooner die
than relax their iron grasp, than yield their
property In men to justice and the commands
of God. We have those who would fight
agaittst abolition, if by this measure the profit
of their intercourse with the South should be
materially impaired. The present excitement
among us is, in part, the working of merce-
nary principles. But because the North joins
hands with the South, shall iniquity go un-
pmiished or unrebuked ? Can the league of
the wicked, the revolt of worlds, repeal the
everlasting law of heaven and earth? Has
God's throne fallen before Mammon's ? Must
duty find no voice, no organ, because cor-
ruption is universally diffused ? Is not this a
fresh motive to solemn warning, that, every-
where. Northward and Southward, the rights
of human beings are held so cheap, in com-
parison with worldly gain ?



Chapter iv.
The Evils of Slavay,
The stibject of this section is painful and
repulsive. We must not, however, turn away
from the contemplation of human sufferings
and guilt. Evil is permitted b>[ the Creator
that we should strive against it, in faith, and
hope, and charity. We must never quail before
it because of its extent and duration, never feel
as if its power were greater than that of good-
UCS5. It fe meant tp call fcrth deep sympathy



with human nature, and unwearied sacrifices
for human redemption. One great part of
the mission of every man on earth is to con-
tend with evil in some of its forms ; and there
are some evils so dependent on opinion, that
every man, in judging and reproving them
faithfully, docs something towards their
removal. Let us not, then, shrink from the
contemplation of human sufferings. Even
sympathy, if we have nothing more to offer, is
a tribute acceptable to the Universal Father.
— On this topic, exaggeration should be
conscientiously shunned ; and, at the same
time, himianity requires that the whole truth
should be honestly spoken.

In treating of the evils of slavery, I, of
course, speak of its general, not imiversal
effects, of its natural tendencies, not unfailing
results. There are the same natural diffe-
rences amon^ the bond as the free, and there
b a great diversity in the circumstances in
which they are placed. The house-slave,
selected for ability and faithfulness, placed
amidst the habits, accommodations, and im-
provements of civilized life, admitted to a
degree of confidence and familiarity, and
requiting these privileges with attachment,
is almost necessarily more enlightened and
respectable than the field-slave, who is con-
fined to monotonous toils, and to the society
and influences of beings as degraded as him-
self. The mechanics in this class are sensibly
benefited by occupations which give a higher
action to the mind. Among the bond, as the
free, will be found those to whom nature
seems partial, and who are carried admost
instinctively towards what is good. I speak
of the natural, general influences of slavery.
Here, as everywhere else, there are excep-
tions to the rule, and exceptions which mul-
tiply with the moral improvements of the
commtmity in which the slave is found. But
these do not determine the general character
of the institution. It has general tendencies,
founded in its very nature, and which pre-
dominate vastly wherever it exists. These
tendencies it is my present ptirpose to un-
fold.

I. The first rank among the evils of slavery
must be given to its Moral influence. This
is throughout debasing. Common language
teaches this. We can say nothing more
insulting of another than that he is slavish.
To poss e ss the spirit of a slave is to have
sunk to the lowest depths. We can apply to
slavery no worse name than its own. Men
have always shrunk instinctively from this
state as the most degraded. No punish-
ment, save death, has been more dreaded,
and to avoid it death has often been endured.

In expressing the moral influence of slavery,
the first and most obvious remark is, that it
dcslrpys the proper consciousness and spjnt



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of a Man. The slave, regarded and treated
as property, bought and sold like a brute,
denied the rights of humanity, unprotected
against insult, made a tool, and S3rstematically
subdued, that he may be a manageable, use-
ful tool, how can he help regarding himself
as fallen below his race? How must his
spirit be crushed ! How can he respect
himself? He becomes bowed to servility.
This word, borrowed from his condition, ex-
presses the ruin wrought by slavery within
him. The idea that he was made for his
own virtue and happiness, scarcely dawns on
his mind. To be an instrument of the phy-
sical, material good of another, whose will is
his highest law, he is taught to regard as the
great purpose of his being. Here lies the
evil of slavery. Its whips, imprisonments,
and even the horrors of the middle passage
from Africa to America, these are not to be
named in comparison with this extinction of
the proper consciousness of a human being,
with the degradation of a man into a brute.

It may be said that the slave is used to his
yoke; that his sensibilities are blunted; that
he receives, without a pang or a thought, the
treatment which would sting other men to
madness. And to what does this apology
amount? It virtually declares that slavery
has done its perfect work, has quenched the
spirit of humanity, that the Man is dead
within the slave. Is slavery, therefore, no
wrong? It is not, however, true that this
work of debasement is ever so effectually
done as to extinguish all feeling. Man is
too great a creature to be wholly ruined by
man. When he seems dead, he only sleeps.
There are occasionally some sullen murmurs
in the calm of slavery, showing that Hfe still
beats in the soul, that the idea of Rights
cannot be wholly effiaced from the human
being.

It would be too painful, and it is not needed,
to detail the processes by which the spirit is
broken in slavery. I refer to one only, the
selling of slaves. The practice of exposing
fdlow-creatures for sale, of having markets
for men as for cattle, of examining the limbs
and muscles of a man and a woman as of a
brute, of putting human beings under the
hammer of an auctioneer, and delivering
them, like any other articles of merchandise,
to the highest bidder, all this is such an insult
to our common nature, and so infinitely de-
grading to the poor victim, that it is hard to
conceive of its existence, except in a bar-
barous country.

That slavery should be most unpropitious
to the slave, as a moral being, will be further
apparent if we consider that his condition is,
throughout, a Wrong, and that consequently
it must tend to unsettle all his notions of duty.
The violation of his own rights, to which



he is inured from birth, must throw oonfrt-
sion over his ideas of all human rights. He
cannot comprehend them; or, if he does,
how can he respect them, seeing them, as he
does, perpetually trampled on in his own pca*-
son ? The injury to the character, fix>m living
in an atmosphere of wrong, we can all under-
stand. To live in a state of society of which
injustice is the chief and all-pervading ele-
ment, is too severe a trial for human nature,
especially when no means are used to counter-
act its influence.

Accordingly, the most common distinctions
of morality are fami\j apprehended by the
slave. Respect for property, that funda-
mental law of civil society, can hardly be
instilled into hitn. His dishonesty is pro-
verbial. Theft fix)m his master passes with
him for no crime. A system of force is gene-
rally found to drive to fraud. How neces-
sarily will this be the result of a relation in
which force is used to extort from a man his
labour, his natural property, without any
attempt to win his consent ! Can we wonder
that the uneducated conscience of the man
who is daily wronged should allow him in ■
reprisals to the extent of his power ? Tlius
the primary social virtue, justice, la under-
mined in the slave.

That the slave should yield hLaself to ht-
temperance, licentiousness, and, in general,
to sensual excess, we must also expect.
Doomed to live for the physical indulgences
of others, xmused to any pleasures but those
of sense, stripped of self-respect, and having
nothing to gain in life, how can he be ex-

rjcted to govern himself? How naturally,
had almost said necessarily, does he become
the creature of sensation, of passion, of the
present moment ! What aid does the future
give him in withstanding desire? That better
condition, for which other men postpone the
cravings of appetite, never opens before him.
The sense of character, the power of opinion,
another restraint on the free, can do little or
nothing to rescue so abject a class from excess
and debasement In truth, power over him-
self is the last virtue we should expect in the
slave, when we think of him as suojected to
absolute power, and made to move passively
from the impiUse of a foreign wilL He is
trained to cowardioe, and cowardice links
itself naturalljr with low vices. Idleness, to
his apprehension, is paradise, for he wodcs
without hope of reward. Thus slaveiy robs
him of moral force, and prepares him Co &U
a prey to appetite and passion.

That the slave finds in his conditioa little
nutriment for the social virtues we shall tas^
understand, if we consider that his chicC »*
lations are to an absolute master, and to Ibe
companions of his degrading b<mdage$ ttaX
is, to a being who ^Tongs him, aod lo «bo*



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587



dates whom he cannot honour, whom he sees
debased. His dependence on his owner loosens
his ties to all other beings. He has no country
to love, no family to call his own, no objects
of public utility to espouse, no impulse to
generous exertion. The relations, depen-
dences, and responsibilities, by which Pro-
vidence ioavM the soul to a deep, disinterested
love, are almost struck out m his lot. An
arbitrary role, a foreign irresistible will, taking
him out of his owm bands and placing him
beyond the natural influences of society, ex-
tinguishes in a great degree the sense ot what
is du« to himself and to the human family
around him.

The effects of slavery on the character are
so various that this part of the disctission
might be greatly extended ; but I will touch
only on one topic. Let us turn for a moment
to the great Motive by which the slave is made
to labour. Labour, in one form or another,
is appointed by God for man's improvement
and happiness, and absorbs the chief part of
human life, so that the Motive which excites
to it has immense influence on character. It
determines very much whether life shall serve
or fail of its end. The man who works from
honourable motives, from domestic aflP^tions,
from desire of a condition which will open to
him greater happiness and usefulness, finds
in latx>iir an exercise and invigoration of virtue.
The day-labourer, who earns, with homy hand
and the sweat of his face, coarse food for a
wife and children whom he loves, is raised, bv
this generous motive, to true dignity; and,
though wanting the refinements of life, is a
nobler being than those who think themselves
absolved by wealth from serving others. Now,
the slave's labour brings no dignity, is an
exercise of no virtue, but throughout a de-
gradation ; so that one of God's chief pro-
visions for human improvement becomes a
curse. The motive from which he acts debases
him. It is the whip. It is corporal punish-
ment. It is physical pain inflicted by a fellow-
creature. Undoubtedly labour is mitigated
to the slave, as to all men, by habit. But this
is not the motive. Take away the whip, and
he would be idle. His labotu: brings no new
comforts to wife or child. The motive which
spurs him is one by which it is base to be
swayed. Stripes are, indeed, resorted to by
civil goremment, when no other consideration
will deter from crime; but he who is deterred
from wrong-doing by the whipping^post is
among the most fallen of his race. To work
in sight of the whip, under menace of blows,
is to be exposed to perpetual insult and de-
grading influences. Every motion of the
limbs, which such a menace urges, is a wound
to the souL How hard must it be for a man
who lives under the lash to respect himself I
When this motire is substituted (or all the



nobler ones which God ordains, is it not
almost necessarily death to the better and
higher sentiments of our nature? It is the
part of a man to despise pain in comparison
with disgrace, to meet it fearlessly in well-
doing, to perform the work of life from other
Impulses. It is the part of a bnite to be
governed by the whip. Even the brute is seen
to act from more generous incitements. The
horse of a noble breed will not endure the
lash. Shall we sink man below the horse?

Let it not be said that blows are seldom in-
flicted. Be it so. We are glad to know it.
But this is not the point. The complaint
now urged is not of the amount of the pain
inflicted, but of its influence on the character
when made the great motive to human labour.
It is not the endurance, but the dread of the
whip -it is the substitution of this for natural
and honourable motives to action, which we
abhor and condemn. It matters not whether
few or many are whipped. A blow given to
a single slave is a stripe on the sou& of all
who see or hear it. It makes all abject, ser-
vile. It is not the woimd given to the flesh
of which we now complain. Scar the back,
and you have done nothing, compared with
the wrong done to the soul. You nave either
stung that soul with infernal passions, with
thirst for revenge, or, what perhaps is more
discouraging, you have broken and brutalized
it. The human spirit has perished under
your hands, as far as it can t^ destroyed by
human force.

I know it is sometimes said, in reply to
these remarks, that all men, as well as slaves,
act from necessity ; that we have masters, in
hunger and thirst ; that no man loves labour
for itself ; that the pains which are inflicted
on us by the laws of nature, the elements
and seasons, are so many lashes driving us to
our daily task. Be it so. Still the two cases
are essentially different. The necessity laid
on us by natural wants is most kindly in its
purpose. It is meant to awaken all our
facilities, to give full play to body and mind,
and thus to s^ve us a new consciousness of
the powers derived to us from God, We are,
indeed, subjected to a stern nature; we are
placed amidst warring elements, scorching
heat, withering cold, storms. bUghts, sick-
ness, death. And what is the design? To
call forth our powers, to lay on us great
duties, to make us nobler beings. We are
placed in the midst of a warring nature, not
to yield to it, not to be its slaves, but to con-

2uer it, to make it the monument of our
kill and strength, to arm ourselves with its
elements, its heat, winds, vapours, and mineral
treasures, to find, in its painful changes,
occasions and incitements to invention, cou^
rage, endurance, mutual and endearing
dependences, and religious trust. The de-



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SLAVBRY.



velopment of human nature, in all its powers
and affections, is the end of that hard neces-
sity which is laid on us bv nature. Is this
one and the same thing with the whip laid on
the slave? Still more; it is the design of
nature that, by energy, skill, and self-denial,
we should so far anticipate our wants, or
accumulate supplies, as to be able to diminish
the toil of the hands, and to mix with it
more intellectual and liboral occupations.
Nature does not lay on us an unchangeable
task, but one which we may all lighten by
honest, self-denying industry. Thus she in-
vites us to throw off her yoke, and to make
her our servant. Is this the invitation which
the master gives his slaves ? Is it his aim to
awaken the powers of those on whom he lays
his biu-dens, and to give them increasing
mastery over himself ? Is it not his aim to
curb their wills, break their spirits, and
shut them up for ever in the same narrow
and degrading- work? Oh, let not Nature be
profaned, let not her parental rule be blas-
phemed, by comparing with her the slave-
holder !

2. Having considered the moral influence
of slavery, I proceed to consider its Intellectual
influence, another great topic. God gave us
intellectual power that it should be cultivated;
and a system which degrades it, and can only
be upheld by its depression, opposes one of
his most benevolent designs. Reason is God's
image in man, and the capacity of acquiring
truth is among his best aspirations. To call
forth the intellect is a principal purpose of
the circumstances in which we are placed, of
the child's connection with the parent, and
of the necessity laid on him in maturer life to
provide for himself and others. The educa-
tion of the intellect is not confined to youth ;
but the various experience of later years docs
vastly more than books and colleges to ripen
and mvigorate the faculties.

Now, the whole lot of the slave is fitted to
keep his mind in childhood and bondage.
Though Uving in a kmd of light, few beams
find their way to his benighted understanding.
No parent feels the duty of instructing him.
No teacher is provided for him but the Driver,
who breaks him, almost in childhood, to the
servile tasks which are to fill up his life. No
book is opened to his youthful curiosity. As he
advances in vears, no new excitements supply
the place of teachers. He is not cast on
himself—made to depend on his own energies.
No stirring prizes in life awaken his dormant
faculties. Fed and clothed by others like a
child, directed in every step, doomed for life
to a monotonous round of labour, he lives
and dies without a spring to his powers, often
brutally unconscious of his spiritual nature.
Nor is this all. When benevolence would
approach him >vith instruction, it is repelled.



He is not allowed to be Uught. The light is
jealously barred out. The voice, which would
speak to him as a man, is put to silence. He
must not even be enabled to read the Word
of God. His immortal spirit is systematically
crushed.

It is said, I know, that the ignoranoe of
the slave is necessary to the security of the
master, and the quiet of the state; and this
is said truly. Skivery and knowledge cannot
live together. To enlighten the slave is to
break his chain. To make him harmless, be
must be kept blind. He cannot be left to
read, in an enlightened age, without eodu»-
gering his master; for what can be read
which will not give at least some hint of his
wrongs? Should his eye chance to fall on
the " Declaration of Independence." bow
would the truth glare on him that *' All men
are bom free and equal!" All knowledge
furnishes arguments against slavery. From
every subject, light would break forth to
rev^ his inalienable and outraged rights.
The very exercise of his intellect would give
him the consciousness of being made for
something more than a slave. 1 agree to the
necessity laid on his roaster to keep him in
daricness. And what stronger argument
againstslaverycan be conceived? It conpels
the master to degrade systematically the mind
of the slave; to war against human intelli-
gence; to resist that improvement which is
the end of the Creator. •• Woe to bim that
taketh away the key of knowledge I " To
kill the body is a great crime. The spirit we
cannot kill, but we can bury it in deith-like
lethargy; and is this a ligat crime in the
sight of its Maker?

Let it not be said that almost e v ei y w here
the labouring classes are doomed to ignoraDce.
deprived of the means of instruction. The
intellectual advantages of the labouring free-
man, who is entrust^ with the care of himself,
raise him far above the slave ; and. accoi^
ingly, superior minds are constantly seen to
issue from the less educated classes. Besides,
in free communities, philanthropy is not for-
bidden to labour for the improvement d the
ignorant. The obligation of the prospeioiic
and instructed to elevate their less farovrea
brethren is taught, and not taught in
Benevolence is making perpetusd ena
ments on the domain of ignorance and <
In communities, on the other hand, •
with slavery, half the population, i
more, are given up intentionally and syste-
matically to hopeless ignorance. To rais^
this mass to intelligence and self-governmral
is a crime. The sentence of perpetual dtf^Ba^
dation is passed on a large portion of Ike
human race. In this view, how gr^ Om 18*
desert of slavery 1

3. I proceed now tfi Uie PunnHfc f|k*



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SLAVERY.



S«9



(hieA(^ o^ slavery; and herd we must look
for a dark picture. Slavery virtually dissolves
^ikt domestic relations. It raptures the most
sacred ties on earth. It violates home. It
lacerates the best affections. The domestic
relations precede, and, in our present exis-
tence, are worth more than all our other social
ties. They give the first throb to the heart,
and unseal the deep fountains of its love.
Home is the chief school of human virtue.
Its responsibilities, joys, sorrows, smiles, tears,
hopes, and solicitudes, form the chief inte-
rests of human life. Go where a roan may.
borne is the centre to which his heart turns.
The thought of his home nerves his arm and
lightens bis toil. For that his heart yearns,
When he is far off There he gamers up his
best treasures. God has ordained for all men
alike the highest earthly happiness, in pro-
viding for all the sanctuary of home. But the
slave's home does not merit the name. To
him it is no sanctuary. It is open to viola-
tion, insult, outrage. His children belong to
another, are provided for by another, are dis-
posed of by another. The most precious
burden with which the heart can be clmrged —
the happiness of his child— ^be must not bear.
He lives not for his family, but for a stranger.
He caniu>t improve their lot. His wife and
daughter he cannot shield £nom insult. They
may be torn from him at another's pleasiue,
sold as beasts of burden, sent he knows not
whither, sent where he cannot reach them, or
even interchange inquiries and messages of
love. To the slave, marriage has no sanctitv.
It may be dissolved in a moment at another s
wilL His ¥rife, son, and daughter may be
lashed before his eyes, and not a finger must
behfted in their defence. He sees the scar
of the lash on his wife and child. Thus the
fikcve's home is desecrated. Thus the ten-
derest relations, intended by God equally for
all, and intended to be the chief springs of
happiness and virtue, are sported with wan-
tonly and cruelly. What outrage so great as
to enter a man's house, and tear from his side
the beings whom God has bound to him by
the holiest ties? Every man can make the
case his own. Every mother can bring it
home to her own heart.

And let it not be said that the slave has not
the sensibiUties of other men. Nature is too
strong even for slavery to conquer. Even the
brute has the yearnings of parental love. But
suppose that the conjugal and parental ties of
the slave may be severed without a pang.
What a curse must be slaverv, if it can so
blight the heart with more than brutal in-
sensibility, if it can sink the human mother
below the Polar she-bear, which "howls and
dies for her sundered cub I " But it does
not and cannot turn the slave to stone. It
leaves, at least, feeling enough to make these



domestic wr6ngs occasions of frequent and
deep suffering. Still it must do much to
quench the natiural afiiections. Can the wife,
who has been brought up under influences
most tmfriendly to female purity and honour,
who is exposed to the whip, who may be
torn away at her master's will, and whose
support and protection are not committed to
a husband's faithfulness— can such a wife,
if the name may be given her, be loved and
honoured as a woman should be? Or can
the love which should bind together roan



Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 129 of 169)