Slavery in the United States <br> Chapter 7
The constitution of the United States, which went into operation shortly after the importation of slaves was prohibited by Virginia, contained a provision, that the importation of such persons as any of the states then existing might think proper to admit, should not be prohibited by congress prior to the year 1808. No slaves were imported into Virginia under this provision; on the contrary, the general assembly in 1793 passed a law prohibiting such importation under new and aggravated penalties.*(Acts of 1793, p. 8.) Here, then, is one great state exonerated from the maledictions of the philanthropists, so far as respects all voluntary agency in the introduction of slaves into the United States.
With regard to the sister states of the South, at whose instance, it is believed, the clause in the constitution permitting the importation of slaves until the year 1808 was introduced, thus much may be said. It is well known how jealous the states were of their rights under the act of confederation, and with what sagacious vigilance they watched those provisions of the constitution which interfered with them. The southern states, with the exception of Virginia, which, as before stated, had voluntarily divested herself of the right, all enjoyed the privilege of importing slaves; and, without doubt, much of their unwillingness to surrender it, originated in the great general principle, never to relinquish to the federal government a single right not indispensable to the exercise of the powers necessary to the performance of its functions. Such was the right of importing slaves. But setting all this aside, what is the charge that can justly be brought against them? The importation of slaves was at that time common to England, France, Spain, Holland, and every other nation possessing colonies, where their labour was deemed essential to the raising of tropical products. The learned theologians of the school of emancipation had not yet discovered their favourite dogma, and the slave trade was one of the ordinary branches of commerce. The city of Bristol, in England, was the great mart. These young states, therefore, only followed the example of their elders, and for this, most certainly they may be held excusable, if any excuse is necessary.
Of the charge of introducing slaves into Florida, and that vast region comprehended under the general name of Louisiana, the people of the United States are entirely innocent. It cannot be ascribed to them or their government. It was done while the country was possessed by the Spaniards and French, and the right to the property of slaves was guarantied by the act of cession from France to the United States. Since that period, the state of Missouri was admitted into the Union, with the right of holding slaves, after a struggle which threatened the dissolution of the confederacy. In addition to this, the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama, which were not within the limits of Louisiana, have chosen to recognize the institution of slavery simply for the reason that the settlers were emigrants from slave-holding states, and brought their slaves with them. Still further; in order that slavery may be restricted to the region which it was supposed could not be cultivated without the aid of Africans or their descendants, a solemn compact was made, excluding it for ever beyond a certain northern latitude.
Let us now sum up the real state of the case in as few words as possible. Slavery was first introduced into the colonies now composing a portion of the United States, by the authority of the mother country, England, and in opposition to the laws of one colony at least. It was recognized by the United States, in their independent character, both from interest and necessity. They found the slaves on their hands, and did not choose to share their newly acquired freedom with an ignorant race, incapable of appreciating or enjoying its blessings, and who had taken no part in acquiring them. On the very first instant of the expiration of the time during which the general government was restricted by the constitution from all action on the subject, congress passed a law prohibiting the slave trade. In doing this, the United States set the first example to the world. While Mr. Wilberforce was reiterating his annual motion in the British parliament for the abolition of the slave trade, while England, France, Spain, Portugal, Holland, and every nation holding southern colonies, continued to legalize this traffic, the United States alone stood exonerated from all participation. The first impulse, and the first example, came from this country, which is held up to the bitterest animadversion of those who now, for purposes previously indicated, usurp the lead in the race of philanthropy; and like all new converts, make up for their tardiness by noisy and obtrusive impertinence. Add to this, that slavery has been voluntarily abolished in all the old states where it was practicable without producing dangerous consequences, and as voluntarily prohibited by several of the new ones. What then have the United States done to be thus singled out from the rest of the world as a target for the great guns of philanthropy? They tolerated the slave trade not a moment after the constitution permitted them to abolish it; they have refused to allow the British cruisers to board and search their vessels under pretence of suppressing that trade—a privilege that would revive and sanction the antiquated claim of England which occasioned the late war; and the people of the South have declined to yield to the seductive anathemas of English and American abolitionists, and let loose upon themselves millions of ignorant, helpless slaves, to become either a burden or a curse to their masters. Last, and worst of all, they have rejected the honour of mingling their blood with that of their slaves, and debasing their species by the favourite process of amalgamation. Such are the enormous offences against the law of God, the rights of nature, and the feelings of humanity, which it seems have merited the names of "traitors and blasphemers," “two-legged wolves," " monsters in human shape," and other similar compliments.
All that the people of the United States could constitutionally do—all that they were called upon by any principle of humanity to do—they have done. They are now vehemently reproached for not doing what neither reason nor humanity require at their hands. Because the government of England has thought proper to coerce her dependant colonies into a prospective manumission of their slaves, the government of the United States must do the same to independent states constituting nearly one half of this confederation, and whose right to this species of property was the condition on which they consented to enter the Union. The cases are distinct in every material feature. The obstacles in one were overcome by a sheer act of arbitrary legislation, such as in the other is utterly impracticable; and if it were attempted, would be resisted to the last.
If England and the English press were to call on France, Spain, or Portugal to give immediate freedom to the slaves of their colonies, there might be some ground of reproach if they refused, because they have the power to do what is demanded of them. Their domination over their dependencies is even more despotic than that of England over hers, and therefore nothing but the will is wanting. But the one-sided philanthropists of that country make no such requisition on the philanthropy of those states. The British government is content to make treaties conceding the right of search and detention to its cruisers in all suspicious cases, and thus virtually investing her with a prerogative which the United States always has, and, it is hoped, always will resist, when attempted under any pretence whatever. Yet we do not find these intermeddlers in our domestic concerns denouncing France, Spain, and Portugal in such terms as they apply to the United States, who first set the example of prohibiting the slave trade to the rest of the world. They hold meetings in London, attended by leading statesmen of all parties, to make speeches against us, and denounce the Colonization Society, one of the most rationally benevolent institutions ever formed for the propagation of Christianity and civilization in Africa, and thus laying the axe to the root of slavery. But we do not find them sending fugitives from justice to those countries to invite the slaves to insurrection and murder, or provoke a servile war; neither does the whole press of England join in one general chorus of cant against them for declining to inflict ruin on a large portion of their subjects. The reason is sufficiently obvious. They are not free republics, and the example of their growth and prosperity, under a system of equal rights and equal laws, presents nothing to induce the subjects of England to an imitation of their institutions or an abandonment of their country.
That the late intemperate proceedings of the abolitionists have been stimulated by an impulse derived from abroad, is evident from the whole history of their newborn zeal. It will be remembered that the denunciation of the Colonization Society, which was the first step in their proceedings, was at a meeting in the city of London, at which very distinguished statesmen of all parties attended, and in which the two great liberators, Garrison and O'Connell, equally distinguished themselves by their abuse of the people of the United States. From that meeting the emissaries of the English abolitionists came, red hot with furious zeal, to light the fires of contention, insurrection, disunion, and massacre. We feel no hesitation in declaring our belief that they are not only stimulated by foreign influence, but by foreign money; because it is otherwise incomprehensible how they obtain the means of gratuitously distributing so many papers, pamphlets, and pictures, or of supporting such a number of brawling incendiaries who are every day disturbing the peace of communities by their disgusting and inflammatory harangues. The notorious Thompson, whose regard to the rights of property was so admirably demonstrated in London as to point him out emphatically as a proper instrument for assailing them here, is known to be a missionary from a society of venerable spinsters. It is understood that he has gone to England to procure testimonials to his character, and doubtless he will succeed; for there are many honest zealots there, who will think a few pious frauds not only justifiable, but praiseworthy on such an occasion.
If we combine with these circumstances, the tone and language of the British press—reviews, magazines, and newspapers; the public declarations of her statesmen and orators; the voice of the pulpit; the resolutions of public meetings; and the officious intermeddling of a host of travelers, from Abdy, the master of arts, to Reed and Matthison, the doctors of divinity, it would seem sufficiently evident that a great concentrated effort is making against the good name and well being of the United States. That it has its origin deep in political feelings and motives, enough has been adduced to render more than probable; and speaking, we trust, without any undue degree of presumption, it might be well for England to consider whether an enlarged and liberal policy towards the United States, a great and growing confederation, which not all the arts of foreign or domestic influence can rend asunder, at least for centuries to come, would not prove ultimately more judicious, than that which she now seems to be pursuing. We inherit her blood, her feelings, her policy, her courage, her talents, and more than her enterprise; and she must know by this time that we are no despicable enemy. It might, therefore, be worth while to calculate the value of our friendship. The people of the United States are of a nature to forgive injuries, but they never forget insults. Every man among them reads English, and, of consequence, every slanderous or contemptuous ebullition of the British press tells in this country. It is not that we think more of the opinions of Englishmen than of other foreigners, but that those opinions are infinitely more accessible, being conveyed in our native tongue, and circulated everywhere without the necessity of a translation.
The efforts of the whole world cannot dissever this Union. Our quarrels are those of man and wife, and all that is wanting to produce not only a cordial reconciliation but a unity of action is the interference of a third person. Every sentiment of patriotism and love of glory; every dictate of reason; every tie of interest; and every impulse that operates with irresistible force and fervour on the hearts and heads of a generous, spirited, and enlightened people, concentrate themselves in one effort to preserve and perpetuate that government and that union which every man is conscious are the main pillars of his happiness and prosperity. It may be shaken at times, but the edifice will not fall; it will only acquire additional solidity by the parts becoming more compact as the conflicting elements settle down in their proper places; The desire of happiness; the love of glory; the recollections of the past; the realities of the present; and the towering hopes of the future, constitute the cement of this confederation, and promise a duration only to be arrested by those silent yet irresistible changes which constitute the invisible instruments of Providence in governing the world. Let not any peevish jealousy, or recollection of past times, operate on England to forget her best interests in the indulgence of her worst passions. The United States and England, as friends, may stand against the world; as foes, they will only become the prey of each other. But friends we can never be, while every one of the thousand ships that carry on the intercourse of the two countries comes freighted with calumnies, or exaggerations that amount to calumnies, and there is not a wind that blows from the east but is tainted with the spirit of never dying hostility. The fires that were lighted up by two wars will never be extinguished, so long as fresh fuel is thus every day administered. The press of England, not less than the conflicting claims and interests of the two nations, has already contributed to produce one war, and while it perseveres in its hostility, the seeds of war will continue to vegetate to maturity.
As little will the United States be dismembered as conciliated, by bitter denunciations launched forth from behind the brazen shield of universal philanthropy.
These sentiments are those of every native born citizen of the United States, whatever may be the party he espouses, or the state to which he belongs. It is firmly believed that there is not an advocate of nullification, as it is usually termed, who would not, if the country were in danger, emulate the patriotism which inspired Marion, Sumpter, Pickens, the Rutledges and Pinckneys of yore, when they converted the solitudes of nature into the temples of freedom, and swamps into impregnable fortresses. The sentiment of patriotism and the love of liberty are equally indelible in the hearts of our people; each man feels himself a full sharer in the benefits of a mild and equal government; an inheritor of all she is, all she is destined to become hereafter. It is a joint stock company; and such is the feeling of a common interest which pervades the minds of all, that neither England nor any other power under heaven will gain anything but the eternal enmity of the people of the United States, by attempts to wound their good name, or scatter the firebrands of dissension and disunion among them.