William Ellery Channing.

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

. (page 152 of 169)
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the slaves in the West Indies have been and
are most overworked. In Cuba, we are told
by men who have given particular attention
to that island, the mortality on the sugar
estates is ten per cent, annually, so that a
whole gang is used up, swept off, in ten
years. Suppose emancipation introduced into
Cuba. Would not the pro<luction of sugar be
diminished ? Ought not every man to desire
the diminution? I do not say that such
atrocious cruelty was common in the British
Islands. But it was in this department chiefly
that the slaves were exposed to excessive toil.
It was to be expected, then, that, when left
free, they would prefer other modes of in-
dustry. Accordingly, whilst the sugar is
diminished, the ordinary articles of sut>sis-
tence have increased. Some of the slaves
have become small farmers ; and many more,
who hire themselves as labourers, cultivate
small patches of land on their own account.
There is another important consideration.
Before freedom, the women formed no incon-
siderable part of the gangs who laboured on
the sugar crops. These are now very much,
if not wholly, withdrawn. Is it a grief to a
man, who has the spirit of a man, that woman's
burdens are made lighter? Other causes of
the dimmution of the sugar crop may be foirad
in Mr. Gumey's txx)k ; but these are enough
to show us that this effect is due in part to the
good working of emancipation, to a relief of
the male and female slave, in which we ought
to re;joice.

Before emancipation, I expected that the
immediate result of the measure would be
more or less idleness, and consequently a



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EAtANCIPATION.



dioiinution of produce. How natural was it
to anticipate that men who had worked under
the lash, and had looked on exemption from
toil as the happiness of paradise, should sur-
render themselves more or less to sloth, on
becoming their own masters 1 It is the curse
of a bad system to unfit men, at hrst, for a
better. That the paralyzing effect of slavery
should continue after its extinction, that the
slave should, at the first, produce less than
before — this, surely, is no matter of wonder.
The wonder is— and it is a great one— that the
slaves in the West Indies nave, in their new
condition, been so greatly influenced by the
motives of freemen; that the spirit of industry
has so far survived the system of compulsion
under which they had been trained; that
ideas of a better mode of living have taken so
strong a hold on their minds ; that so many
refined tastes and wants have been so soon
developed. Here is the wonder ; and all this
shows, what we have often heard, that the
negro is more susceptible of civilization from
abroad than any other race of men. That
some, perhaps many, of the slaves have
worked too little is not to be denied ; nor can
we blame them much for it. All of us, I
suspect, under like circumstances, would turn
our^fifst freedom into a holiday. Besides,
when we think that they have been sweating
and bleeding to nourish in all manner of
luxury a few indolent proprietors, they do not
seem very inexcusable for a short emulation
of their superiors. The negro sleeping all
day under the shade of the palm-tree, ought
not to offend our moral sense much more
than the "owner" stretched on his ottoman
or sofa. What ought to astonish us is the
Umitation, not the existence, of the eviL

It is to be desired that those among us who
groan over emancipation because the staples
of the Islands are diminished, should be
made to wear for a few months the yoke of
slavery, so as to judge experimentally whether
freedom is worth or not a few hogsheads of
sugar. If, knowing what this yoke is, they
are willing that others should bear it, they
deserve themselves, above all others, to be
crushed by it. Savcry is the cieatest <rf
wrongs, the most intolerable of all the forms
of oppression. We of this country thought
that to be robbed of poUtical liberty vras an
injury not to be endured, and, as a people,
were ready to shed our blood like water to
avert it. But political liberty is of no worth
compared with personal; and slavery robs
men of the latter. Under the despotism of
modem Europe the people, though deprived
of political freedom, enjoy codes of laws
constructed with great care, the fruits of the
wisdom of ages, which recognize the sacred-
ness of the rights of person and property,
and under which those rights are essentially



secure. A subject of these despotisms moc§
still be a maUr may better his condition, may
emich his intellect, may fill the earth widi hs
tiEmfie. He enjoys essentially personal free-
dom, and through this accomplishes the
great ends of hi& being. To be s tr ippe d of
this blessing, to be owned by a felknr>creft*
ture, to hold our limbs and faculties as ano-
ther's property, to be subject every moment
to another's will, to stand in awe of another's
lash, to have our whole energies diained to
never-varying tasks for another's lozoij, to
hold wife and children at another*s pleasare
— ^what wrong can be compared with this?
This is such an insult on human nature, sodi
an impiety towards the comnaon Father, that
the whole earth should send up one cry of
reprobation against it ; and vet we are cold
this outn^ must continue, lest the market
of the civilized worid should be dqnived of
some hogsheads of sugar.

It is hard to weigh human rights agaimt
each other ; they are all sacred and inv:ala-
able. But there is no one which nature, in-
stinct, makes so dear to us as the right of
action, of free motion ; the right of exerting,
and by exertion enlarging, our faculties of
body and mind ; the right of forming plans*
of directing our powers according to oar
convictions of interest and duty; the right
of putting forth our energies from a spring
in our own breasts. Self-motion, this is what
our nature hungers and thirsts for as its tnae
element and Ure. In truth, everything that
lives— the bird, the insect — craves and de-
lights in freedom of action ; and much more
must this be the instinct cf a rational, moiml
creature of God, who can attain by such free-
dom alone to the proper strength and tsayof'
ment of his nature. The rights of property or
reputation are poor compared with this. Of
what worth would be the products of the
universe to a man forbidden to use his limbs,
or shut up in a prison? To be deprived of
that freedom of action which consists w^
others' freedom ; to be forbidden to eacert oar
faculties for our own good ; to be cot off
from enterprise; to have a narrow circle
drawn round us, and to be kept within it by
a spy and a lash ; to meet an iron barrier ia
another's selfish will, let impulse or dcsha
turn where it may; to be systematica^
denied the m^ms of cuttivadng the imawi
which distinguish us from the brute ; — tliials
to be wounded not otilv in the deanst
earthly interests, but in the very life of te
soul. Our humanity pines and dies. mtlMr
than lives, in this unnatural restraint. Noa^
it is the venr essence of slavery to pigatim
this right of action, of self-motion, not In-
directly or uncertainly, but immed^ttelty .i^A
without disguise; and is this right liftba
weighed in the scales against



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EMANClPATtON.



689



Goflee; fthd are eight hundred thousand
human beings to be robbed of it to increase
the luxuries of the world ?

What matters it that the staples of the
West Indies are diminished ? Do the people
there starve? Are they driven by want to
rot>bery? Has the negro passed from the
bands of the overseer into those of the
hangman? We learn from Mr. Gumey that
the prophecies of^in to the West Indies are
fulfilled chiefly in regard to the prisons. These
are in some places falling to decay, and every-
where have fewer inmates. And what makes
this result more striking is, that, since eman-
cipation, many offences formerly punished
summarily by the master on the plantation,
now fall under the cognizance of the magis-
trate, and are, of course, punishable by im-
prisonment. Do the freed slaves want cloth-
xn^'^ Do rags form the standard of emanci-
pat ion ? We hear not only of decen t apparel ,
but are told that negro vanity, hardly sur-
passed by that of the white dandy, suffers
nothing for want of decoration or fashionable
attire. There is not a sign that the people
fare the worse for freedom. Enough is pro-
duced to give subsistence to an improved and
cheerful population ; and what more can we
drsire ? In our sympathy with the rich pro-
prietor, shall we complain of a change
which has secured to every man his rights,
and to thousands, once trodden under foot,
the comforts of life and the means of intel-
lectual and moral progress? Is it nothing
tlwit the old, unfurnished hut of the slave is
In many spots giving place to the comfortable
cottage ? Is it nothing that in these cottages
marriage b an indissoluble tie? that the
mother presses her child to her heart as indeed
her own? Is it nothing that churches are
springing up, not from tl donations of the
opulent, but from the h. ^ earnings of the
religious poor? What if a few owners of
sugar estates export less than formerly? Are
the many always to be sacrificed to the few ?
Suppose the luxuries of the splendid mansion
to be retrenched. Is it no compensation that
the comforts of the labourer's hut are in-
creased? Emancipation was resisted on the
£^und that the slave, if restored to his rights,
would fall into idleness and vagrancy, and
even relapse into barbarism. But the eman-
cipated negro discovers no indifference to the
comforts of civilized life. He has wants
various enough to keep him in action. His
standard of living has risen. He desires a
better lodging, dress, and food. He has
1)egun, too, to thirst for accumulation. As
Mr. Gumey says, " He understands his in-
terest as well as a Yankee." He is more
likely to fall into the civilized man's cupidity
than into the sloth and filth of a savage. Is
it an oflset for all these benefits, that the



custom-house reports a diminution of the
staples of slavery?

What a country most needs is, not an in-
crease of its exports, but the well-being of all
classes of its population, and especially of the
most numerous class; and these things are
not one and the same. It is a striking fact,
that, while the exports of the emancipated
islands have decreased, the imports are greater
than before. In Jamaica, during slavery, the
industry of the labourers was given chiefly to
a staple which was sent to absentee pro-
prietors, who expended the proceeds very
much in a luxurious life in England. At
present not a little of this industry is employed
on articles of subsistence and comfort for the
working class and their families ; and, at the
same time, such an amount of labour is sold
by this class to the planter, and so fast are
they acquiring a taste for better modes of
living, that they need and can pay for great
imports from the mother country. Surely,
when we see the fruits of industry diffusing
themselves more and more through the mass
of a community, finding their way to the very
hovel, and raising the multitude of men to
new civilization and self-respect, we cannot
grieve much, even though it should appear
that, on the whole, the amount of exports or
even of products is decreased. It is not the
quantity, but the distribution, the use of pro-
ducts, which determines the prosperity of a
state. For example, were the grain which is
now grown among us for distillation annually
destroyed by fire, or were every ship freighted
with distilled liquors to sink on approaching
our shores, so that the crew might be saved,
how immensely would the happiness, honour,
and real strength of the country be increased
by the loss, even were this not to be replaced,
as it soon would be, by the springing up of
a new, virtuous industry, now excluded by
intemperance ! So, were the labour and
capitjU now spent on the importation of

f)emicious luxuries to be employed in the
ntellectual, moral, anJ religious culture of
the whole people, how immense would be the
gain in every respect, though for a short time
material products were diminished ! A better
age will look back with wonder and scorn on
the misdirected industry of the present times.
The only sure sign of public prosperity is,
that the mass of the people are stead//y multi-
plying the comforts of life and the means of
improvement ; and where this takes place, we
need not trouble ourselves about exports or
products.

I am not very anxious to repel the charge
against emancipation of diminishing the in-
dustry of the Islands, though it has been
much exaggerated. Allow that the freed
slaves work less. Has man nothing to do
but work ? Are not too many here over«»

Y Y



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690 EMANCIPATION.

worked ? If a people can live with comfort for this childish condition of society. Still,
on less toil, are they not to be envied rather I turn with pleasure from slavery to the
than condemned ? What a happiness would thought of a million of fellow-beings, hiUe
it be, if we here, by a new wisdom, a new instructed indeed, but enjoying case and
temperance, and a new spirit of brotherly comfort under that beautiful sky and on the
love, could cease to be the care-worn drudges bosom of that exhaustless soiL In esse
which so many in all classes are, and could respect Hayti is infinitely advantaged by ber
give a greater portion of life to thought, to change of condition. Under slavery ber
refined social intercourse, to the enjoyment of coloured population — that is, the raass of ber
the beauty which God spreads over the uni- inhabitants — had no chancy of rising, could
verse, to works of genius and art, to com- make no progress in intelligence and in the
munion with our Creator ! Labour con- arts and refinements of life. They wore
nected with and aiding such a life would be doomed to perpetual degradation. Under
noble. How much of it is thrown away on freedom their improvement is possible. Tbcy
poor, superficial, degrading gratifications 1 are placed within the reach of meliorating
We hear the condition of Hayti deplored influences. Their intercourse with other
because the people are so idle and produce so nations, and the opportunities afforded to
little for exportation. Many look back to the many among them of bettering their ooodi-
period when a few planters drove thousands tion , furnish various means and incttements
of slaves to the cane-field and sugar-mill in to progress. If the Catholic Church, which
order to enrich themselves' and to secure fo is rendering at this moment immense aid to
their families the luxurious ease so coveted in civiUzation and pure morals in Ireland, were
tropical climes, and they sigh over the change to enter in earnest on the work of enlighten-
which has taken place. I look on the change ing and regenerating Hayti, or if /what I
with very different feelings. The negroes in should greatly prefer) any other cfaurcn could
that luxuriant island have increased to above have free access to the people, this island
a million. By slight toil they obtain the com- might in a short time become an import:\nt
forts of life. Their homes are sacred. Their accession to the Christian and civilized world,
httle property in a good degree secure. They and the dark cloud which hangs over the
live together peaceably. So Uttle inclined first years of her freedom would vanish befine
are they to violence, that the large amounts the brightness of her later history,
of specie paid by the government to France, My maxim is, " Anything but slavery 1
as tne price of independence, have been Poverty sooner than slavery I '* Suppose
transported through the country on horse- that we of this good city of Boston were
back with comparatively no defence, and summoned to choose between living on l»^«d
with a safety which no one would be mad and water and such a state of things as
enough to expect under such circumstances existed in the West Indies. Suppose that
in what are called civilized lands. It is true, the present wealth of our metropolis <xsk^
their enjoyments are knimal in a great degree, be continued only on the condition that
They live much like neglected children, male- five thousand out of our eighty thousand
ing little or no progress, making hfe one long inhabitants should live as princes, and the
day of unprofitable ease. I should rejoice to rest of us be reduced to slavery to sostain
raise them from children into men. But the luxury of our masters. Should we oot
when I contrast this tranquil, unoffending all cry out. Give us the bread and wato-?
life with the horrors of a slave plantation, it Would we not rather see our fair city levelksd
seems to me a paradise. What matters it to the earth, and choose to work out slowly
that they send next to no coffee or sugar to for ourselves and our children a better lot,
Europe ? How much better that they should than stoop our necks to the yoke ? So we all
stretch themselves in the heat of the day feel when the case is brought home to oar-
under their gracefully waving groves, than selves. What should we say to the ntan who
sweat and bleed under an overseer for others' should strive to terrify us, by prophecies d
selfish ease 1 Hayti has one curse, and that diminished products and exports, into Ae
is, not freedom, but tyranny. Her president substitution of bondage for the character of
for life is a despot, under a less ominous freemen?

name. Her government, indifferent or hostile In the preceding remarks I have insiabBd

to the improvement of the people, is sustained that emancipation is not to be treated aft&

by a standing array, which undoubtedly is an question of profit and loss, that its oaeells

instrument of oppression. But in so simple are not to be settled by its influenoe on ibe

a form of society despotism is not that master's gains. Mr. Gurney, however, n

organized robbery which has flourished in the tains that the master has nothing to

civilized world. Undoubtedly in this rude that real estate has risen, that free Ift ^

state of things the laws are often unwise, costs less than that of the slave. AH tfallit

partial, and iU administered. I have no taste good news, and should be spreaid "^



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BMANCIPATION.



69t



the land ; for men are especiaUy inclined to
be just when they can serve themselves by
justice. But emancipation rests on higher
ground than the master's accumulation, even
on the rights and essential interests of the
slave. And let these be held sacred, though
the luxury of the master be retrenched.

s. I have now finished my remarks on a
topic which was always present to the mind
of our author, — the alleged decrease of in-
dustry and exports since emancipation. The
next topic to which I shall turn is his notice
of slavery in Cuba. He only touched at this
island, but evidently received the same sad
impression which we receive from those who
have bad longer time for observation. He
says: —

"Of one feature hi the slave-trade and
slavery of Cuba I had no knowledge until I
was on the spot. The importation consists
almost entirely of m«», and we were informed
that on many of the estates not a single female
is to be found. Natural increase is disre-
garded. The Cubans import the stronger
animals like bullocks, work them up, and
then seek a fresh supply. This, surely, is a
system of most unnatural barbarity." — p. 160.

This barbarity is believed to be unparal-
leled. The young African, torn from home
and his native shore, is brought to a planta-
tion where he is never to know a home. All
the relations of domestic life are systemati-
cally denied him. Woman's countenance he
is not to look upon. The child's voice he is
no more to hear. His owner finds it more
gainful to import than to breed slaves: and,
still more, has made the sad discovery that it
is cheaper to "work up " the servile labourer
in his youth, and to replace him by a new
victim, than to let him grow old in moderate
toiL I have been told by some of the most
recent travellers in Cuba, who gave particular
attention to the subject,* that in the sugar-
making season the slaves are generally al-
lowed but four out of the twenty -four hours
for sleep. From these, too, I learned that a
gang of slaves is used up in ten 3rears. Of
the young men imported from Africa, one out
of ten dies yearly. To supply this enormous
waste of life, above twenty-five thousand slaves
are imported annually from Afiica,t in ves-

• My accoants from Cuba have been received from Dr.
Madden, and David TarabuU. Ksq. ; the former, one of
the British conimis8ioner» resident at Havana to enforce
the treaty with Spain In relation to the slave trade ; the
latter, a {^entlcRian who vtsited Cuba chiefly. If not solely,
to inquire into slavery. Mr. TumbuU's account of Cuba,
In his "Travels in the West." deserves to be read. The
reports of such men, confirmed hi a very Important parti-
cutar bv Mr. Gumey, have an authority which obliges me
to spealc as I have done of the slave system of this island.
If, Midee.l (what is most unlikely), they have fallen into



tukkiag it aoch greater than the text.



sels so crowded that somettmes one quarter,
sometimes one half, of the wretched creatines
perish in agony before reaching land, it is
to be feared that Cuban slavery, traced from
the moment when the African touches the
deck to the happier moment when be finds
his grave on the ocean or the plantation, in-
cludes an amount of crime and misery not to
be paralleled in any portion of the globe,
civilized or savage. And there are more
reasons than one why I would bring this
horrid picture before the minds of my
countrymen. We, we, do much to sustain
this system of horror and blood. The Cuban
slave-trade is carried on in vessels built es-
pecially for this use in American ports. These
vessels often sail under the American flag,
and are aided by American merchantmen,
and, as is feared, by American capital. And
this is not all. The sugar, in producing
which so many of our fellow-creatures perish
miserably, is shipped in great quantities to
this country. We are the customers who
stimulate by our demands this infernal cruelty.
And, knowing this, shall we become acces-
sories to the murder of our brethren by con-
tinuing to use the fruit of the hard-wrung
toil which destroys them? The sugar of
Cuba comes to us drenched with human
blood. So we ought to see it, and to turn
from it with loathing. The guilt which pro-
duces it ought to be put down by the spon-
taneous, instinctive horror of the civilized
world.

There is another feet worthy attention. It
is said, that most of the plantations in Cuba
which have been recently brought under cul-
tivation belong to Americans, that the number
of American slave-holders is increasing rapidly
on the island, and, consequently, that the im-
portation of human cargoes from Africa finds
much of its encouragement from the citizens
of our republic. It is not easy to speak in
measured terms of this enormity. For men
born and brought up amidst slavery many
apologies may be made. But men bom be-
vond the sound of the lash, brought up where
human rights are held sacred, who. in face of
all the light thrown now on slaver>% can still
deal in human flesh, can become customers
of the "felon" who tears the African from
his native shore, and can with open eyes in-
flict this deepest wrong for gain, and gain
alone — such "have no doak for their sin."
Men so hard of heart, so steeled against the
reproofs of conscience, so intent on thriving,
though it be by the most cruel wrongs, are
not to be touched by human expostulation
and rebuke. But if any should tremble be-
fore Almighty justice, ought not they t

There is another reason for dwelling on this
topic. It teaches us the little reUance to W
placed on the impressions respecting slavery



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EMANCrPATIOK.



brought home by soperiidal observers. We
have seen what slavery is in Cuba ; and yet
men of high character from this country, who
have visited that island, have returned to tell
us of the mildness of the svstem. Men who
would cut off theu* right hand sooner than
withdraw the sympathy of others from human
suffering, have virtually done so oy their
representation of the kindly working of slavery
on the veryspot where it exists with peculiar
horrors. They have visited some favoured
plantation, beoi treated with hospitality, seen
no tortures, heard no shrieks, and then come
home to reprove those who set forth indig-



Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 152 of 169)