Press enter after choosing selection

Mr. Birney's Lecture On Slavery

Mr. Birney's Lecture On Slavery image Mr. Birney's Lecture On Slavery image
Parent Issue
Public Domain
OCR Text

Vo shall be able to givo only a more sketch of the tenor of bis remarks from a few brief notes we took at the time. ' Mr. B. commenced by some observa'ions upon the great importance of the subject of of slavery, aiïecting as it does our civil, political and moral welfare, and being inti .mately and exten3ively connected with our mechanical, commercial, and agricultural prosperity. It would be impossible in one evcning, to go over a field so extensive in itself, and presenting so many topics of ir.quiryand investigación, and heshould beobligcd to confine himeelf within narrow limits, and Bhou'd endeavor to answer the objection inadc to the proceedrngs of the Northern people on the subject.that thcy know nothing of slavery. He asked how il hnppeneu tlat the North was so ignorant of slavery. The mysteries of the institution were not concoaled. Northern men had visited the South from time to time during the entire exisience of our nation, and bad made their observations on the syetem and ita results, und had comtnunicated them to iheir friends and to the public, and yet during a few yoars pnst, the claim is set up at the South, that vo at the north know nothing of slavery. When an intelligent man visies Russia, or the Mahommedcn countricy, or the African nalions, and givcs an account of the slavery or servitude that exists among those nations, and itseffects on the character, nterestsand prosperily of the people, wc beüeve the general statements made on these points, especially where the facts related came within the immediate knowledge of the trayeller. - Why Uien should we not believe the statements made to us by grualmimbers of intelligent und candid indinduais who hnve visited the South, and have personal ly obssrvcd the working of its ristitutions, and the condition of the popuktion. Dut suppose we do not kno'.v how many laslies the slave receives for each separate offence - how many or uhat kind of garments he wear3, or how much jood he n-ciives, Btill if we know nothing of 6luvery except this one thing, that immurtal boings are held liy their fellow men as property, we 6hould know enough to excite and cali forlh the liveiiest fedmgs and sympathies of our natitres. Holding men a3 property always implies unlimilcd power, and where haa un Jimited power, been conferred on man and pot been abuoed] The heart of man is (leceitful and desperately wicked." We always associate the idea of unlimited power wilh (he abuses uhich fe suppose spring from il. When we hear of the absolute au thority of the Emperor of Russia, we always expect, whatever rnny bi; thecharacter of him who possesses U, tííat abuse, in more or less instances, wil! i'; sme to accompany Usexercise. Unlimiicd j;over is prevalent toa far greater extent, and in vol ves the happiness of a fur greater portion of the populatioii at the South than undcr the despotism of llussia. The latter affects ch'nfly the destinies of a fow disliuguished families and individuals, while the great mass of the laboring populalion, ure 6ecured by their poverty and obscurity, from the more immediate cffects of arbitrary power; win Ie at the South the case is reversed, and the laboring population, in all their social and domestic relations, are contmually subjected to the capricious will of their mastere. The truth is, tho South is blinded ia relation to the actual character and results of its in8titutions. Among the heathen nations all kinds of vice, and crime, and licentiousne6s, general stupidity of intellectual powera a,nd deadness of moral feelings, prevail through tho land, Yet you cannot convince them of this fact. You can look upon this state of society with all its hatefulnessand deformity, but the eyo of the heathen oes not see the degradation of his country - his heart does not feel its defilement. It s so vvith the South in reference to slavery. Phey too are blinded. TJioy see not its latefulness and injustice: they watch coninually for its safety and prosperity, and are cccnly sensitivo in reierence to every atempt wliicli may bo made for its final exinction. We, wlio are free from the prejulicca which they have adopted, and from he feverish and exciting inñuences which )revail among them, are therefore better uahfied lo judge of .the nature and tendency of thesystem. But there aresome tlnngs concerning elavnry which are known or nr.y be kunwn atjhc North. 1. The coloreiTJaboringmen of the South, excepling the free negroes, (and the colored )cop!e of U)3 South perform ncarly all the abor tint is perf'ormed) aro deprived of ïsir Wiiges, and this not lemporarily, but ystcma-lically - universally - alv. ays, the op)reseion exteudiug througli their Jives, andeacliing their remoteet posterüy. With lokling the wages of Ihose wlio labor for U3 s great injustice - it is unifonnly condcmnd in the Bcriptures - it is conlrary to our latural sense of right, and renders a raan :ontemptible in all good society. It is a uean, degrading act. Let us oppeal to our wn hearts, and make the case our own.- Suppose that the Legislature of Michigan should make a law that the people should 3c cqually divided into two classes, and that he men and woraen composing the poorer ;1;68 should ba compelled to labor without wages for the men and women of the richer class. Such an iniquitoua enactment would ïot bo submitted to for one year, one day, or onc moment. The peoplc of Michigan would net tolérate such monstmus injustice. Vut tiio eame injusiice is perpetrated every day, by meaos of legislativo enaetments, in thirtcen states of this union. As soon as the child is tal! enough to reach with his hands the Cütton bolls, the robbery of his wnges icgi, and is continued through the prime of ife to extreme oíd age. They rob the wonen - the childrcn, and the men. This robiing of wagog is not nn accidental appenlage to the system, but an indispensable xirt of it. Slavery cannot exist without robbery. Suppose in a neighboring county, one part of community should thus rob the other, and that Christians should adopt the same plan, and rob their fellow members of tiic same churches of all their wages, and ustify the robbery, and avow their determination to continue it alvvays - would you hesitate to dissolve your Christian connection, with them? But the question arisea how aro these wagcs used? They are not expended on I hose who carned thom, but for the comfort of those who robbed the laborer of his reward. They are not used as a fund for the education of the young or the support of the aged. Their wages are taken from them, not by their frienda to be expended for their good, but by those who avow themselves to be their Rceriues; for it is a doctrine promulgated at the South, that in the nature of the case, the black and white races are natural enemies, and one must necessarily subdue and govern the other. 2. We at the North know that the slavebolders exercise over their slaves unütnited power of punishment. Some may object to this that the laws of the Southern State protect the slave from abuse, and excessivc corporeal inflictions. It is true that thcre are süch laws in the Statute books, but the; have no actual forcé- they exist only un pa per. They are liko the sham guns whicl the Chinese painted on the great wall which they built to düfend them from the incursión of thoTartars, hoping they would have the same efficacy in repclling invasión, as thougl they were made of iron or brass. In orde to lest the eflicacy of these lavvs, let us take a single instance. There are laws whicl prohibit the masker from taking the life o his elaves. Slavery has existed at the soutl more than 200 years. Taking all the circum&tances into account - the many kinds o punishmcnts which are used - the violen passions of some masters, and the many fa cihties Llit'ir, situation gives them to ven their rcstfütmunl upon the hopeless slavc - 6 it at all unreasonable to suppose that fiv slaves have suffered death each year from tb treatment of their masters? Mr. B. believed the number to be more than doublé that he had supposed, but assuming that as the truth we have here one thousand murders, comuiitted directly in the face of the law. And of these thousand murderers, not one was ever executed. An instance never yet was known throughout the slave States, in which the master was executed for killing his slavc! Now, ïf we had a law io Michiganwhich had been violated in one thousand in-. anees, and never once executed, wojfhl t be saying too much to say t was powerless hat ït accomplished nothing - that it had no cstraining influence on society - no cfficacy s a law? It is we.ll known that at the Sonth no slave r free colorcd man can be a witneys against white man. All Ihat the slaveholder has o do, who intends to perpétrate any unlawul outroge on a slave, is to order him to a out of the sight of a white person: or ïf it be committod in the presence of a thousand slaves, their testimony against the master cannot be admitted, Thus he is Fecure in any iniquity he may practice upon his slaves of eithor sex, or of any aLe. But consider the case of what is called a well conditioned slave at tho South. He is brought up by a kind and indulgent master, and owing to a reverse in his master's circumstances, ha is soldito a trader, and dis- osed of to a man of ferocious and riolent )assioii9. The slave foels his helplesstion and is honestly and aincercly disposed ' 0 do the best he can. Perhaps also be is a ' isciple of Jesús Clirist, and his moral and eligious principies make hirn more diligent n hiB endeavors to please his master. But ás master is offended at something, and he s beaten. He complains nnd he is beaten again. He runs avvay and is retaken, beaten gain - sometimes to ajelly, as it is expresed at the South - salted and peppered. - And thus he lives. He is peí fectly defencecss, and is disposed to do as well as hecan, md yct this is his situation. Mr. B. did not ay that all masters treated their slaves in his marnier, nor that all slaves were so reated; but he did say that every slave, male or female, was every day liabJe to be thus treated. 3. We at the North know that the slaveïolders exercise unlirmted power to sell slaves - whero, vvhen, and to whom they ilcase, and that the family relations are thereby often sundered. Husbands have no no power to prevent the sale of their wives, or fathers their children - ihey are defeiice less, and at the mercy of the master. Females, whether wives or daugluero, are ofien separa ted from their friends, and purchased ay the trader expressly becatipo ttutit beauty will render tbem salcable. Suppoae a cas- - and many such exist in reality - where a sober, steady colored man has a large family of children of different ages. His master aecomes embarrassed and sells one child out of the family - shortly after he sells anothcr, as his necessities become urgent - and another - until they are all sold away from their parents except one daughter. Their affections centre in her. But the slavo trader cornos for anothcr victim and thinks her beauty will bring a high prico m the South ern market - she is purchased and sent to grace somO slaveholder's harem, and if the bereaved desolate parents complain they are whipped. And yet people teil how happy the slaves are. Professor Dew, of William and Mary College, Va. says they are the happisst people in the world. Butsome objoctor says "It does not seem to me possible that such things can be done, or atleast,the cases mustbe extremely rare. 1 have seen many ladies and gentlemen from the South, and they appearso pleasanl, kind, amiable, and generous that I cannot believe that such things are of frequent occurrence." In answer to this objection, Mr. B. adduced a great variety of facts showing the exlent of the domestic slave trade. Virginia, Kentucky, Tcnnessee, Missouri and Maryland all raise slavea for sale, while the other States consume thera in the same sense in which they consumo horses or mules. - A Virginia editor estimated tbat during the height of the speculations, 40,000 slaves were sol! out of Virginia, in twelve months, which at SGOO each brought into the State gL4,0ü0,000, and he thcught one half of the atnount might be invested in banking. Itiis to be borne in mind also, that the traders usually purchase slaves of both sexes when they are from 10 to Söyears of age, because such are the most aaleablc - a period of life when the moral susceptibilities are most keenly sensitive, and the lies of nature bind the heart most closely to kindred and friends. Yet all thoso things are going on in the public highways of this great nation- in the land of ministers, and Bibles, and tracts, and churches, before all Israel and the sun, and we sit here unmovcd- indifferent- as though" it was no concern of ours. Ought these things so to be] 4. We at the North know that slavea are not allowed to marry. It is true that the slaves live together, and this they cali Haking ," hut marriage is entirely uaknown among them. It is a fact wellknown at the South that a slave country is a great scène of pollution and licentious ne88. Henry Clay, in remarking uponjl the subject, observed, that the evil was not the greatest upon the colorcd people, but upon the whites. Mr. B. here made sorae remarks on the folly of a statesman, (if he could be called one) who would legislate to put down the freecolored people in' the free States, because they were a degraded clags. Suppo3e that to be a fact, every thinking man knows that a body of corrupt and degraded people will corrupt and demoralize all with whom thcy come iin coniact. What then is the true policy of a statesman to pursue - tn degrade and sink them lower by oppressive legislative enactments, and thereby render them a stil! greater nuisance to the res', of communiiy, or was it not rather the part of a statesman to elévate their condition, increasetheir facilities for intelligence, andremove their disabilities,nnd thereby bring t ihem up to a level with the surrounding ( population? He who wouldjake an opposite course he called a sham staicman. Mr. B. said his remarks thus far had referred chiefly to the physical hardships of the slave. Bul the slave was a man, and he possessed the higher part of man's nature - the intellect. Through all the slave States, wilh oneor two exceptions, a slave cannot even learn to read the Bible. God from Heaven has commanded all his reasonable creature3 tosearch the scriptures - the slave attempts to comply with the requisition, but the slaveholder steps in and says "Youshall not!" The slaveholder thus opposeshimself against thecommandsofGod, and assumes towurds the slave the same relation that God assumes towards all tho rational creaun-cs he has made. Man is soconstituted that the increase ofknowledge, of whatever nature it may be,scientifio, literary, or religious, gives enjoyr.icnt and pleasure. Now the slaveliolder altempts to defcat this provisión of God's government. He says that slavery must be maintained at every hazard - and intelligence and slavery are incompatible. He thereforo depriveshim as far as possible of all fucilities for intellectual cultivation, and mprovement. If it were possible to hold him as a slave, ond yet grant him facilities for reading Milton, Bacon, Locke, or Malebranchc,he would willingly do so. But he is perfectly well aware, that when the slave becomes a man of knowl erige he will be a slave no longer. But slavery lays its hand on the moraj nature of man - on those immortal capacities for serving God and his fellow beings, which God has bestowed on the slave, and which he has made capable of endless progression and improvement. God has associated together the body, intellect and spirit. The body acts on the intellect and that inits turn on the moral feelings. The intellect must perceive and understand the character of God, before the soul can enjoy and delight in the excellencies and glorious perfections of his nature. So that by shutting out in this life the knowlcdge of his Creator which the slave might have Httained, the slaveholder renders his victim morally incapable of that happiness which he mighl have altained in a future state, in the adoration and service of God. Hereihen,said Mr. B. we see that slavery involves the entire deslruction of man- of his soul,body, and intellect - conlinually - during his residence on carth, and in the state beyond the grave. Yet slaveholders comes forward and say, ''you know nothing about slavery !" If we lenow these things which have been brought to view concerning the abominations of tho system, and these facts comprise the total destruction of all that is valuable in man, and yet they are accounted as nothin in the view of the slaveholder, as being sosmalla part of the system as not to be worthy of notice, what must slavery itself be 1 Y these things are a mere item in the account, what must be the horrors of the institution, when spread out in all their length and brcadth? He spoke at some length of the state of public feeling at the INorth, which prohibits ministers of the Gospel from mentioning it in their discourses, or praying publicly for itsal, and, which also precludes the petitiona of the friends of universal Liberty from being received by our National and State Legislaturee, or gives thera a sullen and ignominious reception. But it was said that the Biblesanctioned slavery formerly, and if it was ever right to hold property in man, ii waa right now. ln reply, he would ask the objector if slavery was not inconsistent with the Golden Rule of doing to others as we would be dono b) 1 lie had never found an intelligent, candid man who denied this. Thia being admitted, he asked further if the Bible was not the offsprin of one m!nd, of infinite wisdom? If it was, it rmi3i follow in th.2 nature of the cnsc, that there could be no discrepancies or contradictions in it. ifGod has eslablished a single rule of action which nrohibits slavcrj-, (as the Golden Rule does,) there cannol le any passage in the Bible which sanctionsGvy because that would irnply two rules ivhose provisions are directly opposed to sach other, both the revelation of one mind of infinite wisdom. If he found two parts of scripture apparently contradictory to each other, he must conclude that he had mistaken the meaning of the one or the other; for in all cases God must be consistent wilh himself. But it was snid that Paul told slaves or servants (he would not contend about the word) to obey their mnsters, and thereby recognized slavery. In the time of Paul, every nation under heaven exceptthe Hebrews, held slaves. The Roman Empire extended over every part of the civilized earih, and there was no place to which a slave could escape. It would have been absurd for the Apostle to have advised the slave to escape and regain his liberty, when there was no place where he could remain in freedorn. He therefore advised. him to bear his lot wilh patience and consiüer tan ordination of Divine Providence which the slave mightimprove for h is own sanctification, and perhaps it would be o-, verruled for the ultímale good of his master. Bnt now the circumstances were different. Suppose Paul to be standing in Quebec, in cumpany with a master and a runaway slave, but who was now free by British laws - would Paul teil the slave taat it WaË Li religieus duty io forsake the land of freedom, and relurn with his niaster into slavery, and once more sub, mit himself to the lash, and obey his master in all things, and never more think of becoming free unless his master would voluntarily libérate him? VVho can believe that Paul would advise a free man thus to forsake his freedom, and voluntarily become a slave, and teach him that the Bible required him to do so? Again suppose Paul slood on this side of theSt. Lawrence, and a poor hunted fugitive should arrive at the river, and prepare to embark ior the opposite shore. He haa escaped from a cruel and relentless master,who never had any right to his services, and who has abused and robbed him all hisdays; and now the slave, without doing the least injury to any one, in a few moments can be released fron his misery and become a free man forever. Doyou ibiok PjuiI woutd teil him "Go back to your master l" Ho would be the very last man to send back the slave to remain inbonds when liberty was just witbin hia reach. Mr. B. then spoke of the remedy for sla very, and showed from a variety of facts that emancipat ion mustbe immediate, and not gradual, and that it must take place on the soil. Pennsylvania passed an act in 1780, emancipatingthe slaves gradually. 4000 slaves were emancipated in 25 years being 200 each year. These were liberated without inconvenience, and they found employ among the Quakers and oihers. - But in'ïiouisiana, where the slave population amounted to 200,000, the case was different. Suppose 10,000 a year should be set free, what shuuld ihey do? The slaveholders could not employ them and pay them wages, becuuau their slavea would be discontented, and there would be none to hire ihem, and ihey would possees no land of their own. Next year ten thousand more would be addcd to thenumber of helpless freemen. The consequence would be, that for want of hands the planter must curtail his business and throw out, yearly, l-20;h part of his land to briersnndthorns. Now look at the other side of the qucstion. Suppose all the slaves in Louisiana to be set free at once, it would be regarded by the slaves as an act notonly of justice, but of great mercy and kindness. The masters are superior in intelligence,possess lands and lools, and want laborera, and the slaves want wages. One class is able to earn, the other topay. Thus master and laborers would be mulually beuefitted. But it was said that the blacks of tho South would overrun tho North. ín auswer to this Mr. B. observed; 1. That wages would be betler at th South