Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2003 Issue

Slavery in the United States <br> Chapter 2

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It has been asserted, of late years, by writers so zealous in the cause of emancipation, that they sometimes conflict with all previous authorities, that the custom of buying captives on the coast of Africa operates as a provocative to perpetual wars, and thus increases the evil it affects to alleviate. It may be that this is the case in some degree. But a reference to the travels of Mungo Park will show that the purchase of slaves by Europeans can have little influence on the wars in the interior of that continent. The state of slavery exists there entirely independent of the foreign slave trade, and to an extent beyond any other portion of the globe.
"A state of subordination, and certain inequalities of rank and condition, are inevitable in every stage of civil society; but when this subordination is carried to so great a length, that the persons and services of one part of the community are entirely at the disposal of another part, it may then be denominated a state of slavery ; and in this condition of life, a great body of the negro inhabitants of Africa have continued from the most early period of their history, with this aggravation, that their children are born to no other inheritance.'"* (See Park's Travels, p. 210. New-York edition. )
"The slaves of Africa, I suppose, are nearly in the proportion of three to one of freemen."*
"Hired servants, by which I mean persons of free condition, voluntarily working for pay, are unknown in Africa.
"*! (Park's Travels. Ibid . )
If, then, the certainty of being able to convert prisoners into a source of profit, is an incentive to war, the negroes of Africa have that incentive in the highest degree, independent of the foreign slave trade, which only carries off that surplus of captives which would otherwise probably be put to death.

In a subsequent chapter of this inquiry, it is proposed to institute a comparison between the situation of the slaves of Africa, and those of the United States, for the purpose of showing what they sacrifice and what they gain by being transferred from one country to the other. In one, they are the slaves of a race of unfeeling barbarians, equally destitute of the arts of civilized life, as of the principles of civilized government, and the doctrines of true religion. According to Park, they are perpetually engaged in wars of capture and extermination. Their systems of government, their manners, habits, and social relations, are those of uncivilized barbarians. Those who were transported hither were captives in war; they possessed no civil rights at home; they brought none with them, and acquired none here. They came as alien bondmen; they were "of the heathen ;" their posterity were "begot in our land," and have become "our possession," as " inheritances of our children," in accordance with the sanction of Holy Writ, as conveyed in the twenty-fifth chapter of Leviticus. The government of the United States, its institutions, and its privileges, belong of right wholly and exclusively to the white men; for they were purchased, not by the blood of the negroes, but by that of our fathers.

The declaration "that all men are created equal" is thus carried out in its consequences. It follows "that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Unquestionably, it may be said that all men are born equal, and born free, and yet may forfeit that freedom. To deny this, is to impeach the right of self-defense, which justifies the necessity of putting captives in war beyond the reach of doing us further injury, as well as those laws which inflict imprisonment and hard labour, frequently for life, on persons guilty of great crimes, and thus bring us back to the bloody code of England, or leave us at the mercy of villains. All men have also a natural right to live as long as they can; yet it does not follow that they cannot be deprived of life, as a punishment, or to secure the safety of society. So also all men have a right to pursue their own happiness, so long as this is done without illegally or immorally interfering with the happiness of others. To interpret this celebrated declaration in any other manner, would be to pervert its principles into a warrant for the violation of all human statutes, under the sanction of the inalienable rights of nature. It was not an elaborate metaphysical discussion of human rights, but a mere assertion of great general principles; and to have enumerated all the exceptions would have been giving the world a volume in folio, instead of a simple declaration of rights. The charge of inconsistency between our principles and practice, is therefore entirely unfounded.

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