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Personal Liberty

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It is to be desired that those among us, who groan over emancipation, because the staples of the island are diminished, should be made to wear for a few rnonths the yoke of slavery, so as to judge experimentally whether freedom is worth or not a few hogsheads of sugar. lf knowing what this yoke is, they are willing that others should bear it, they deserve themselves above all others to be crushed by it. Slavery is the greatest of wrongs, the most intolerable of all the forms of oppression. We of this country thought, that to be robbed of political liberty was 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 destiny of modern 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 sacredness of the rights of person and property and under which those rights are essentially secure. A subject of these despotisms may still be a man, may better his condition, may enrich his intellect, may fill the earth with his fame. He enjoys essentially personal freedom, and through this accomplishes the great ends of his being. To be stripped of this blessing to be owned by a fellow creature, to hold our limbs and facuiltes as another's property, to be subject every moment to another's will, to stand in awe of another's lash, to have our whole energies chained to never varying tasks for another's luxury, to hold wife and children at another's pleasure, - what wrong can be compared with this? This is such an insult on human nature, such an impiety towards the common Father, that the whole earth should send up one cry of reprobation against it; and yet we are told, this outrage must continue, lest the market of the civilized world should be deprived of some hogsheads of sugar. For myself I do not think it worth my while to inquire into the merits of slavery in this or that region. It is enough for me to know, that one human being holds other human beings as his property, subject to his arbitrary and irresponsible will,and compels them to toil for his luxury and ease. I know enough of men, to know what the working of such a system on a large scale must be; and I hold my understanding insulted when men talk to me of its humanity. If there be one truth of history taught more plainly than any other, it is the tendency of human nature to abuse power. To protect ourselves against power, to keep this in perpetual check by dividing it among many hands, by limiting its duration, by defining its acition with sharp lines, by watching it jealously, by holding it responsible for abuses, this is the grand aim and benefit of the social institutions which are our chief boast. Arbitrary, unchecked power, is the evil against which all experience cries so loudly, that apologies for it may be dismissed without a hearing. But admit the plea of its apologists. Allow slavery to be ever so humane. Grant that the man who owns me is ever so kind. The wrong of him who presumes to talk of owning me is too unmeasured to be softened by kindness.- There are wrongs which can be redeemed by no kindness. Because a man treads on me with velvet foot, must I be content to grovel in the earth? Because he gives me meat as well as bread, whilst he takes my child and sells it into a land where my chained limbs cannot follow, must I thank him for his kindness? I do not envy those who think slavery no very pitiable a lot, provided its nakedness be covered and its hunger regularly appeased. Many people mistake the love of virtue for the practice of it.