Anti Slavery Opinions before the Year 1800
by William Frederick Poole
BEFORE THE YEAR 1800
READ BEFORE THE CINCINNATI LITERARY CLUB, NOVEMBER 16, 1872
BY WILLIAM FREDERICK POOLE
Librarian of the Public Library of Cincinnati
TO WHICH IS APPENDED A FAC SIMILE REPRINT OF DR. GEORGE BUCHANAN'S
ORATION ON THE MORAL AND POLITICAL EVIL OF SLAVERY, DELIVERED
AT A PUBLIC MEETING OF THE MARYLAND SOCIETY FOR PROMOTING
THE ABOLITION OF SLAVERY, BALTIMORE, JULY 4, 1791
ROBERT CLARKE &CO.
I purpose this evening to call the attention of the Club to the
state of anti-slavery opinions in this country just prior to the year
1800. In this examination I shall make use of a very rare pamphlet in
the library of General Washington, which seems to have escaped the
notice of writers on this subject; and shall preface my remarks on the
main topic of discussion with a brief description of the Washington
In the library of the Boston Athenaeum, the visitor sees, as he
enters, a somewhat elaborately-constructed book-case, with glass front,
filled with old books. This is the library of George Washington, which
came into possession of the Athenaeum in 1849. It was purchased that
year from the heirs of Judge Bushrod Washingtonthe favorite nephew to
whom the General left all his books and manuscriptsby Mr. Henry
Stevens, of London, with the intention of placing it in the British
Museum. Before the books were shipped, they were bought by Mr. George
Livermore and a few other literary and public-spirited gentlemen of
Boston, and presented to the Athenaeum. Mr. Livermore, as discretionary
executor of the estate of Thomas Dowse, the literary leather-dresser
of Cambridge, added to the gift one thousand dollars, for the purpose
of printing a description and catalogue of the collection, which has
not yet been done.
The collection numbers about twelve hundred titles, of which four
hundred and fifty are bound volumes, and seven hundred and fifty are
pamphlets and unbound serials. Some books of the original library of
General Washington still remain at Mt. Vernon, and are, or were a few
years since, shown to visitors, with other curiosities.
Separated from association with their former illustrious owner, the
bound volumes, which are mostly English books, present but few
attractions. Among them are a few treatises on the art of war and
military tactics, which evidently were never much read. These were
imported after his unfortunate expedition with Braddock's army, and
before the revolutionary war. There are books on horse and cattle
diseases; on domestic medicine; on farming, and on religious
topicssuch works as we might expect to find on the shelves of a
intelligent Virginia planter. It is evident that their owner was no
student or specialist. Many of the books were sent to him as presents,
with complimentary inscriptions by the donors. The bindings are all in
their original condition, and generally of the most common description.
The few exceptions were presentation copies. Col. David Humphreys,
Washington's aid-de-camp during the revolutionary war, presents his
Miscellaneous Works, printed in 1790, bound, regardless of expense,
by some Philadelphia binder, in full red morocco, gilt and goffered
edges, and with covers and fly-leaves lined with figured satin. As the
book was for a very distinguished man, the patriotic binder has stamped
on the covers and back every device he had in his shop. Nearly all the
volumes have the bold autograph of Go. Washington, upon their title
pages, and the well-known book-plate, with his name, armorial bearings,
and motto, Exitus acta probat, on the inside of the covers.
There are persons at the present day who have very positive opinions
on the subject of prose fiction, believing that great characters like
Jonathan Edwards and George Washington never read such naughty books
when they were young. Let us see. Here is the Adventures of Peregrine
Pickle; in which are included the Memoirs of a Lady of Quality, by
Tobias Smollett, in three volumes. On the title page of the first
volume is the autograph of George Washington, written in the cramped
hand of a boy of fourteen. The work shows more evidence of having been
attentively read, even to the end of the third volume, than any in the
library. Here is the Life and Opinions of John Buncle, a book which
it is better that boarding-school misses should not read. Yet
Washington read it, and enjoyed the fun; for it is one of the few books
he speaks of in his correspondence as having read and enjoyed. The
present generation of readers are not familiar with John Buncle. Of the
book and its author, Hazlitt says John Buncle is the English Rabelais.
The soul of Francis Rabelais passed into Thomas Amory, the author of
John Buncle. Both were physicians, and enemies of much gravity. Their
great business was to enjoy life. Rabelais indulges his spirit of
sensuality in wine, in dried neats' tongues, in Bologna sausages, in
Botorgas. John Buncle shows the same symptoms of inordinate
satisfaction in bread and butter. While Rabelais roared with Friar John
and the monks, John Buncle gossiped with the ladies.
It is the good fortune of the youth of our age that they are served
with fun in more refined and discreet methods; yet there is a
melancholy satisfaction in finding in the life of a great historical
character like Washington, who was the embodiment of dignity and
propriety, that he could, at some period of his existence, unbend and
enjoy a book like John Buncle. He becomes, thereby, more human; and the
distance between him and ordinary mortals seems to diminish.
Thomas Comber's Discourses on the Common Prayer, has three
autographs of his father, Augustine Washington, one of his mother, Mary
Washington, and one of his own, written when nine years of age. The
fly-leaves he had used as a practice book for writing his father's and
mother's names and his own, and for constructing monograms of the
The pamphlets in the collection have intrinsically more value than
the larger works. They were nearly all contemporaneous, and were sent
to Washington by their authors, with inscriptions upon the title pages
in their authors' handwriting, of the most profound respect and esteem.
Some of these pamphlets are now exceedingly rare. In a bound volume
lettered Tracts on Slavery, and containing several papers, all of
radical anti-slavery tendencies, is the one to which I wish
especially to call your attention. It is so rare that, having shown
this copy for fifteen years to persons especially interested in this
subject, and having made the most diligent inquiry, I have never heard
of another, till within a few days since, when I learn from my friend,
Mr. George H. Moore, the librarian of the New York Historical Society,
that there is a copy in that society's library. Its title is: An
Oration upon the Moral and Political Evil of Slavery. Delivered at a
Public Meeting of the Maryland Society for Promoting the Abolition of
Slavery and the Relief of Free Negroes and others unlawfully held in
Bondage, Baltimore, July 4, 1791. By George Buchanan, M. D., Member of
the American Philosophical Society. Baltimore: Printed by Philip
Edwards, M,DCC,XCIII. Twenty pages, octavo.
A Fourth-of-July oration in Baltimore, on the moral and political
evils of slavery, only four years after the adoption of the
Constitution, is an incident worthy of historical recognition, and a
place in anti-slavery literature. The following extracts will give an
idea of its style and range of thought:
God hath created mankind after His own image, and granted them
liberty and independence; and if varieties may be found in
structure and color, these are only to be attributed to the
of their diet and habits, as also to the soil and the climate
may inhabit, and serve as flimsy pretexts for enslaving them.
What, will you not consider that the Africans are men? That
have human souls to be saved? That they are born free and
independent? A violation of these prerogatives is an
upon the laws of God.
Possessed of Christian sentiments, they fail not to exercise
when opportunity offers. Things pleasing rejoice them, and
melancholy circumstances pall their appetites for amusements.
brook no insults, and are equally prone to forgiveness, as to
resentments. They have gratitude also, and will even expose
lives to wipe off the obligation of past favors; nor do they
any of the refinements of taste, so much the boast of those who
call themselves Christians.
The talent for music, both vocal and instrumental, appears
natural to them; neither is their genius for literature to be
despised. Many instances are recorded of men of eminence among
them. Witness Ignatius Sancho, whose letters are admired by all
men of taste. Phillis Wheatley, who distinguished herself as a
poetess; the Physician of New Orleans; the Virginia Calculator;
Banneker, the Maryland Astronomer, and many others, whom it
be needless to mention. These are sufficient to show, that the
Africans whom you despise, whom you inhumanly treat as brutes,
whom you unlawfully subject to slavery, are equally capable of
improvement with yourselves.
This you may think a bold assertion; but it is not made without
reflection, nor independent of the testimony of many who have
taken pains in their education. Because you see few, in
to their number, who make any exertion of ability at all, you
ready to enjoy the common opinion that they are an inferior set
of beings, and destined to the cruelties and hardships you
But be cautious how long you hold such sentiments; the time may
come when you will be obliged to abandon them. Consider the
pitiable situation of these most distressed beings, deprived of
their liberty and reduced to slavery. Consider also that they
not for themselves from the rising of the sun to its going
and you will readily conceive the cause of their inaction. What
time or what incitement has a slave to become wise? There is no
great art in hilling corn, or in running a furrow; and to do
they know they are doomed, whether they seek into the mysteries
science or remain ignorant as they are.
To deprive a man of his liberty has a tendency to rob his soul
every spring to virtuous actions; and were slaves to become
fiends, the wonder could not be great. 'Nothing more
man to a beast,' says the learned Montesquieu, 'than being
freemen, himself a slave; for slavery clogs the mind, perverts
moral faculty, and reduces the conduct of man to the standard
brutes.' What right have you to expect greater things of these
poor mortals? You would not blame a brute for committing
upon his prey; nor ought you to censure a slave for making
attempts to regain his liberty, even at the risk of life
Such are the effects of subjecting man to slavery, that it
destroys every human principle, vitiates the mind, instills
of unlawful cruelties, and subverts the springs of government.
What a distressing scene is here before us? America, I start at
your situation! These direful effects of slavery demand your
serious attention. What! shall a people who flew to arms with
valor of Roman citizens when encroachments were made upon their
liberties by the invasion of foreign powers, now basely descend
cherish the seed and propagate the growth of the evil which
boldly sought to eradicate? To the eternal infamy of our
this will be handed down to posterity, written in the blood of
African innocence. If your forefathers have been degenerate
to introduce slavery into your country to contaminate the minds
her citizens, you ought to have the virtue of extirpating it.
In the first struggles for American freedom, in the
ardor of attaining liberty and independence, one of the most
sentiments that ever adorned the human breast was loudly
proclaimed in all her councils. Deeply penetrated with the
of equality, they held it as a fixed principle, 'that all men
by nature, and of right ought to be, free; that they were
equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable
rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness. Nevertheless, when the blessings of peace
showered upon them; when they had obtained these rights
they had so boldly contended for, then they became
their principles, and riveted the fetters of slavery upon the
Deceitful men! Who could have suggested that American
would at this day countenance a conduct so inconsistent; that
while America boasts of being a land of freedom, and an asylum
the oppressed of Europe, she should at the same time foster an
abominable nursery of slaves to check the shoots of her growing
liberty? Deaf to the clamors of criticism, she feels no
and blindly pursues the object of her destruction; she
the propagation of vice, and suffers her youth to be reared in
habits of cruelty. Not even the sobs and groans of injured
innocence which reek from every state can excite her pity, nor
human misery bend her heart to sympathy. Cruel and oppressive
wantonly abuses the rights of man, and willingly sacrifices her
liberty upon the altar of slavery.
What an opportunity is here given for triumph among her
Will they not exclaim that, upon this very day, while the
Americans celebrate the anniversary of freedom and
abject slavery exists in all her states but one?
[NoteMassachusetts.] How degenerately base to merit the
Fellow countrymen, let the heart of humanity awake and direct
councils. Combine to drive the fiend monster from your
Your laborers are slaves, and they have no incentive to be
industrious; they are clothed and victualed, whether lazy or
hard-working; and, from the calculations that have been made,
freeman is worth two slaves in the field, which make it in many
instances cheaper to have hirelings; for they are incited to
industry by hopes of reputation and future employment, and are
careful of their apparel and their implements of husbandry,
they must provide them for themselves; whereas the others have
little or no temptation to attend to any of these
Fellow countrymen, let the hand of persecution be no longer
raised against you; act virtuously; 'do unto all men as you
that they should do unto you,' and exterminate the pest of
from the land.
The orator then goes on to hold up the horrors of an insurrection.
He reminds his hearers that in many parts of the South the number of
slaves exceeds that of the whites. He reminds them that these slaves
are naturally born free and have a right to freedom; that they will not
forever sweat under the yoke of slavery. Heaven, he says, will not
overlook such enormities. She is bound to punish impenitent sinners,
and her wrath is to be dreaded by all. What, then, if the fire of
liberty shall be kindled among them? What if some enthusiast in their
cause shall beat to arms and call them to the standard of freedom? Led
on by the hopes of freedom and animated by the inspiring voice of their
leaders, they would soon find that 'a day, an hour of virtuous liberty
was worth a whole eternity of bondage.'
Hark! methinks I hear the work begun; the blacks have sought for
allies and have found them in the wilderness, and have called the rusty
savages to their assistance, and are preparing to take revenge upon
their haughty masters.
To this threatening passage the orator has appended a note, in which
he says: This was thrown out as a conjecture of what possibly might
happen; and the insurrections of San Domingo tend to prove this danger
to be more considerable than has generally been supposed, and
sufficient to alarm the inhabitants of these states.
The contingency, which he thought might possibly happen, did
actually occur thirty-nine years later, when an insurrection broke out,
August, 1830, in Southampton county, Virginia, under the lead of Nat
Turner, a fanatical negro preacher, in which sixty-one white men,
women, and children were murdered before it was suppressed.
He recommends immediate emancipation; and if this can not be done,
then, he says, let the children be liberated at a certain age, and
in less than half a century the plague will be totally rooted out from
among you; thousands of good citizens will be added to your number, and
gratitude will induce them to become your friends.
This remarkable oration suggests some interesting questions of
historical inquiry. How far do these opinions represent the current
sentiments of that time on the subject of slavery? It will be seen that
they are of the most radical type. I am not aware that Wendell Phillips
or Wm. Lloyd Garrison ever claimed that the negro race was equal in its
capacity for improvement to the white race. While its rhetoric was more
chaste, they certainly never denounced the system in more vigorous and
Forty-four years later (October 21, 1835), Mr. Garrison was waited
upon, in open day, by a mob of most respectable citizens, while
attending a meeting of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society, dragged
through the streets of Boston with a rope around his body, and locked
up in jail by the Mayor of that sedate city to protect him from his
assailants. On the 4th of July, 1834, a meeting of the American
Anti-Slavery Society was broken up in New York, and the house of Lewis
Tappan was sacked by mob violence. A month later, in the city of
Philadelphia a mob against anti-slavery and colored men raged for three
days and nights. On the 28th of July, 1836, a committee of thirteen
citizens of Cincinnati, appointed by a public meeting, of whom Jacob
Burnet, late United States Senator and Judge of the Supreme Court of
Ohio, was chairman, waited upon Mr. James G. Birney and other members
of the executive committee of the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society, under
whose direction the Philanthropist, an anti-slavery newspaper, was
printed here, and informed them that unless they desisted from its
publication the meeting would not be responsible for the consequences.
Judge Burnet stated that the mob would consist of five thousand
persons, and that two-thirds of the property holders of the city would
join it. The committee gave Mr. Birney and his friends till the next
day to consider the question, when they decided to make no terms with
the rioters and to abide the consequences. That night the office was
sacked, and the press of the Philanthropist was thrown into the Ohio
But here was an oration delivered in the city of Baltimore in the
year 1791, advancing the most extreme opinions, and it created not a
ripple on the surface of Southern society.
That the opinions of the oration did not offend those to whom it was
addressed, the official action of the Society, which is printed on the
third page, attests. It is as follows:
At a special meeting of the 'Maryland Society for Promoting the
Abolition of Slavery and the Relief of Free Negroes and others
Unlawfully held in Bondage,' held at Baltimore, July 4, 1791,
Resolved, That the president present the thanks of the
to Dr. George Buchanan, for the excellent oration by him
this day, and, at the same time, request a copy thereof in the
name and for the use of the Society.
SignedSamuel Sterett, President; Alex. McKim, Vice-President;
Joseph Townsend, Secretary.
The oration has this dedication:
To the Honorable Thomas Jefferson, Esq., Secretary of State,
whose patriotism since the American Revolution has been
marked by a sincere, steady, and active attachment to the
of his country, and whose literary abilities have distinguished
him amongst the first of statesmen and philosophersthis
is respectfully inscribed, as an humble testimony of the
regard and esteem, by the Author.
The author was evidently a straight Democrat.
Seven years ago I copied this oration with the intention of
reprinting it, with a brief historical introduction, supposing I could
readily find the few facts I needed. But in this I was disappointed.
Who was Dr. George Buchanan? That he was a member of the American
Philosophical Society at Philadelphia was apparent on the title page;
but that was all I could learn of him from books or inquiry. I then
wrote to a historical friend in Baltimore to make inquiry for me there,
and I received letters from the author's son, McKean Buchanan, senior
paymaster in the United Stares navy, since deceased, and from two
grandsons, Mr. George B. Coale and Dr. Wm. Edw. Coale, giving full
particulars, which I will condense:
Dr. George Buchanan was born on an estate, five miles from
Baltimore, September 19, 1763, and for many years was a practicing
physician in Baltimore. He was a son of Andrew Buchanan, who was also
born in Maryland, and was General in the Continental troops of Maryland
during the Revolution, and was one of the Commissioners who located the
city of Baltimore. Dr. George Buchanan studied medicine and took a
degree at Philadelphia. He then went to Europe and studied medicine at
Edinburgh, and later at Paris, taking degrees at both places. Returning
to Baltimore, he married Letitia, daughter of the Hon. Thomas McKean,
an eminent jurist, who was a member of the Continental Congress, one of
the Signers the Declaration of Independence, and was Governor of
Pennsylvania from 1799 to 1806. In 1806, Dr. Buchanan removed to
Philadelphia, and died the next year of yellow fever, in the discharge
of his official duties as Lazaretto physician. His eldest son was
Paymaster McKean Buchanan, before mentioned. His youngest son was
Franklin Buchanan, captain in the United States navy till he resigned,
April 19, 1861, and went into the so-called Confederate navy. He was,
with the rank of Admiral, in command of the iron-clad Merrimac, and
was wounded in the conflict of that vessel with the monitor Ericsson,
at Hampton Roads, March 9, 1862, and was later captured by Admiral
Farragut in Mobile harbor.
My brother, writes one of the grandsons, told me that the last
time he saw Henry Clay, Mr. Clay took his hand in both of his and said,
with great emphasis: 'It is to your grandfather that I owe my present
position with regard to slavery. It was he who first pointed out to me
the curse it entailed on the white man, and the manifold evils it
brings with it.'
In determining how far the sentiments contained in this oration were
the current opinions of the time, it became necessary for me to know
something definite of the Maryland Society for the Abolition of
Slavery, of the Virginia, the Pennsylvania, and other societies, which
existed at that time. This information I could not obtain from
anti-slavery books, or from the most prominent abolitionists whom I
consulted. The matter seemed to have been forgotten, and it was the
common idea that there was nothing worth remembering of the
anti-slavery movement before 1830, when Mr. Garrison and his radical
friends came upon the stage in Boston. For the want of the facts I
needed, I laid aside the idea of reproducing the tract. The subject was
brought again to mind by hearing the excellent paper, by Mr. S. E.
Wright, our secretary, on the anti-slavery labors of Benjamin Lundy,
which he read to this Club, a few months ago. The labors of Mr. Lundy
began in 1816, and ended with his death in 1839. Quite recently I have
obtained much of the information I needed.
Among the unknown facts to which I could get no clue at the time I
have mentioned, were the names of the Virginia Calculator and the
Physician of New Orleans, whom Dr. Buchanan mentions with Phillis
Wheatley, Ignatius Sancho, and Banneker, the Maryland astronomer, as
being negroes who were distinguished for their literary and
mathematical acquirements. Mr. Phillips had never heard of them, and he
took the trouble to make inquiries among his anti-slavery friends, but
A year or more after I had abandoned my little project, in looking
over the files of the Columbian Centinal, printed in Boston, for 1790,
I found under the date of December 29th, in the column of deaths, the
DIEDNegro Tom, the famous African calculator, aged 80 years.
was the property of Mrs. Elizabeth Cox, of Alexandria. Tom was
very black man. He was brought to this country at the age of
fourteen, and was sold as a slave with many of his unfortunate
countrymen. This man was a prodigy. Though he could neither
nor write, he had perfectly acquired the use of enumeration. He
could give the number of months, days, weeks, hours, and
for any period of time that a person chose to mention, allowing
his calculations for all the leap years that happened in the
time. He would give the number of poles, yards, feet, inches,
barley-corns in a given distancesay, the diameter of the
orbitand in every calculation he would produce the true
in less time than ninety-nine out of a hundred men would take
their pens. And what was, perhaps, more extraordinary, though
interrupted in the progress of his calculations, and engaged in
discourse upon any other subject, his operations were not
in the least deranged; he would go on where he left off, and
give any and all of the stages through which the calculation
Thus died Negro Tom, this untaught arithmetician, this
scholar. Had his opportunities of improvement been equal to
of thousands of his fellow-men, neither the Royal Society of
London, the Academy of Science at Paris, nor even a Newton
need have been ashamed to acknowledge him a brother in
This obituary was doubtless extracted from a Southern newspaper. A
fact once found is easily found again. I have come across the name of
this unlettered negro prodigy many times since, with the substance of
the facts already stated. In a letter which Dr. Benj. Rush, of
Philadelphia, addressed to a gentleman in Manchester, England, he says
that, hearing of the astonishing powers of Negro Tom, he, in company
with other gentlemen passing through Virginia, sent for him. A
gentleman of the company asked Tom how many seconds a man of seventy
years, some odd months, weeks, and days had lived. He told the exact
number in a minute and a half. The gentleman took a pen, and having
made the calculation by figures, told the negro that he must be
mistaken, as the number was too great. 'Top, massa, said the negro
you hab left out de leap years. On including the leap years in the
calculation, the number given by the negro was found to be correct.
That Dr. Buchanan did not mention his name is explained by the fact
that he died only six months before; and the audience, who had
doubtless read the obituary notice just recited, or a similar one, knew
who was meant. Besides, he was a native African, and had no name worth
having. He was only Negro Tom. In Bishop Gregoire's work, however, he
is ennobled by the by the name of Thomas Fuller, and in Mr. Needles'
Memoir the name of Thomas Tuller.
Why Dr. Buchanan should have omitted to mention the name of the New
Orleans physician does not appear, unless it be that he was equally
well known. His name, I have found recently, was James Derham. Dr.
Rush, in the American Museum for January, 1789, gave an account of Dr.
Derham, who was then a practitioner of medicine at New Orleans, and, at
the time the notice was written, was visiting in Philadelphia. He was
twenty-six years of age, married, member of the Episcopal Church, and
having a professional income of three thousand dollars a year. He was
born in Philadelphia a slave, and was taught to read and write, and
occasionally to compound medicines for his master, who was a physician.
On the death of his master he was sold to the surgeon of the Sixteenth
British regiment, and at the close of the war was sold to Dr. Robert
Dove, of New Orleans, who employed him as an assistant in his business.
He manifested such capacity, and so won the confidence and friendship
of his master, that he was liberated on easy terms after two or three
years' service, and entered into practice for himself. I have
conversed with him, says Dr. Rush, upon most of the acute and
epidemic diseases of the country where he lives. I expected to have
suggested some new medicines to him, but he suggested many more to me.
He is very modest and engaging in his manners. He speaks French
fluently, and has some knowledge of the Spanish.
It was unfortunate that these incidents had not occurred early
enough to have come to the knowledge of Mr. Jefferson before he wrote
his Notes on Virginia. These were precisely the kind of facts he was
in quest of. He probably would have used them, and have strengthened
the opinions he there expressed as to the intellectual capacity of the
His Notes on Virginia were written in 1781-2. His condemnation of
slavery in that work is most emphatic. The whole commerce between
master and slave, he says, is a perpetual exercise of the most
boisterous passions; the most unremitting despotism on the one part,
and degrading submission on the other. Our children see this and learn
to imitate it.... The parent storms, the child looks on, catches the
lineaments of wrath, puts on the same airs in the circle of smaller
slaves, gives loose to his worst of passions; and thus nursed,
educated, and daily exercised in tyranny, can not but be stamped by it
with odious peculiarities. The man must be a prodigy who can retain his
manners and morals undepraved by such circumstances. With what
execration should the statesman be loaded, who, permitting one-half the
citizens thus to trample on the rights of the other, transforms those
into despots and these into enemiesdestroys the morals of the one
part, and the amor patriae of the other?... Can the liberties of
a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm
basisa conviction in the minds of men that these liberties are the
gift of God; that they are not to be violated but with His wrath?
Indeed, I tremble for my country, when I reflect that God is justthat
His justice can not sleep forever. Pp. 270-272, ed. Lond., 1787.
On the practical question, What shall be done about it? Mr.
Jefferson's mind wavered; he was in doubt. How can slavery be
abolished? He proposed, in Virginia, a law, which was rejected, making
all free who were born after the passage of the act. And here again he
hesitated. What will become of these people after they are free? What
are their capacities? He had never seen an educated negro. He had heard
of Phillis Wheatley and Ignatius Sancho. He did not highly estimate the
poetry of the one, or the sentimental letters of the other. He was
willing to admit, however, that a negro could write poetry and
sentimental letters. Beyond this all was in doubt. He regarded it as
highly probable that they could do nothing more. He says: Comparing
them by their faculties of memory, reason, and imagination, it appears
to me that in memory they are equal to the whites; in reason much
inferior, as I think one could scarcely be found capable of tracing and
comprehending the investigations of Euclidp. 232. He doubtingly
adds: The opinion that they are inferior in the faculties of reason
and imagination must be hazarded with great diffidence. To justify a
general conclusion requires many observationsp. 238. The opportunity
for making these observations he had never had.
It so happened that soon after writing this, Banneker, the Maryland
negro astronomer, who had distinguished himself in the very faculty of
mathematical reasoning which Mr. Jefferson had supposed no negro
possessed, sent him his Almanac, with a letter. To the letter Mr.
Jefferson replied as follows:
I thank you sincerely for your letter of the 19th instant, and
for the Almanac it contained. Nobody wishes more than I do to
such proofs as you exhibit, that nature has given to our black
brethren talents equal to those of other colors of men, and
the appearance of a want of them is owing merely to the
condition of their existence, both in Africa and America. I can
add with truth, that nobody wishes more ardently to see a good
system commenced for raising the condition, both of their body
mind, to what it ought to be, as fast as the imbecility of
present existence, and other circumstances which can not be
neglected, will admit. I have taken the liberty of sending your
Almanac to Monsieur de Condorcet, Secretary of the Academy of
Sciences at Paris, and member of the Philanthropic Society,
because I consider it a document to which your color had a
for their justification against the doubts which have been
entertained of them. I am, with great esteem, sir, your most
obedient, humble servant,
The next instances of precocious black men which must have come to
his knowledge were, doubtless, Negro Tom, in whom the mathematical
faculty was strangely developed, and James Derham, the New Orleans
physician. If Mr. Jefferson had rewritten his Notes, he would,
probably, have included mathematics and medicine among the special
subjects which were peculiarly adapted to the capacities of the negro
It was not the question of the natural rights of the negro, the
prejudice of color, nor of the ruinous improvidence of the system of
slavery, that controlled the decision in Mr. Jefferson's mind, as to
the methods by which the system should be terminated. On these points,
he was as radical as the extremest abolitionist; but he could not
satisfy himself as to the mental capacity of the negrowhether he had
the full complement of human capabilities, and the qualifications for
equality of citizenship with the white man; for he saw that
emancipation, without expatriation, meant nothing else than giving the
black man all the rights of citizenship. The theory that the negro is a
decaudalized ape, a progressing chimpanzee, is an invention of the last
forty years, and contemporaneous with the discovery that the Bible
sanctions slavery. He was, on the whole, inclined to the opinion that
they were an inferior race of beings, and that their residence, in a
state of freedom, among white men was incompatible with the happiness
of both. He thought they had better be emancipated, and sent out of the
country. He therefore took up with the colonization scheme long before
the Colonization Society was founded. He did not feel sure on this
point. With his practical mind, he could not see how a half million of
slaves could be sent out of the country, even if they were voluntarily
liberated; where they should be sent to, or how unwilling masters
could be compelled to liberate their slaves. While, therefore, he did
not favor immediate emancipation, he was zealous for no other scheme.
Bishop Gregoire, of Paris, felt deeply hurt at Mr. Jefferson's low
estimate of the negro's mental capacity, and wrote to him a sharp
letter on the subject. Later, the Bishop sent a copy of his own book on
the Literature of Negroes. Acknowledging the receipt of the Bishop's
book, Mr. Jefferson says:
Be assured that no person living wishes more sincerely than I
to see a complete refutation of the doubts I have myself
entertained and expressed on the grade and understanding
to them by nature, and to find that, in this respect, they are
a par with ourselves. My doubts were the result of personal
observation on the limited sphere of my own State, where the
opportunities for the development of their genius were not
favorable, and those of exercising it still less so. I
them, therefore, with great hesitation; but whatever be their
degree of talent, it is no measure of their rights. Because Sir
Isaac Newton was superior to others in understanding, he was
therefore lord of the person and property of others. On this
subject they are gaining daily in the opinions of nations, and
hopeful advances are making toward their re-establishment on an
equal footing with other colors of the human family. I pray
therefore, to accept my thanks for the many instances you have
enabled me to observe of respectable intelligence in that race
men, which can not fail to have effect in hastening the day of
their relief. Works, v, p. 429.
Writing to another person a few months later, he alludes to this
letter and says: As to Bishop Gregoire, I wrote him a very soft
answer. It was impossible for a doubt to be more tenderly or
hesitatingly expressed than it was in the Notes on Virginia; and
nothing was, or is, further from my intentions than to enlist myself as
a champion of a fixed opinion, where I have only expressed a doubt.
Works, v, p. 476.
Mr. Jefferson never got beyond his doubt; and Bishop Gregoire
resented his passive position by omitting Mr. Jefferson's name from a
list of fourteen Americans, which included Mr. Madison, William
Pinkney, Dr. Benj. Rush, Timothy Dwight, Col. Humphreys, and Joel
Barlow, to whom, with other philanthropists, he dedicated his book.
Washington, Madison, Patrick Henry, George Mason, and nearly all the
public men of Virginia and Maryland of that period were in much the
same state of mind as Jefferson. So was Henry Clay at a later
Mr. Jefferson, in August, 1785, wrote a letter to Dr. Richard Price,
of London, author of a treatise on Liberty, in which very advanced
opinions were taken on the slavery question. Concerning the prevalence
of anti-slavery opinions at that period, he says: Southward of the
Chesapeake your book will find but few readers concurring with it in
sentiment on the subject of slavery. From the mouth to the head of the
Chesapeake, the bulk of the people will approve its theory, and it will
find a respectable minority, a minority ready to adopt it in practice;
which, for weight and worth of character, preponderates against the
greater number who have not the courage to divest their families of a
property which, however, keeps their consciences unquiet. Northward of
the Chesapeake you may find, here and there, an opponent to your
doctrine, as you find, here and there, a robber and murderer, but in no
greater number. In that part of America there are but few slaves, and
they can easily disincumber themselves of them; and emancipation is put
in such a train that in a few years there will be no slaves northward
of Maryland. In Maryland I do not find such a disposition to begin the
redress of this enormity as in Virginia. These [the inhabitants of
Virginia] have sucked in the principles of liberty, as it were, with
their mothers' milk, and it is to these I look with anxiety to turn the
fate of this question. Be not, therefore, discouraged. The College of
William and Mary in Williamsburg, since the remodeling of its plan, is
the place where are collected together all the young men of Virginia
under preparation for public life. There they are under the direction
(most of them) of a Mr. George Wythe [Professor of Law from 1779 to
1789], one of the most virtuous of characters, and whose sentiments on
the subject of slavery are unequivocal. I am satisfied if you could
resolve to address an exhortation to these young men, with all the
eloquence of which you are master, that its influence on the future
decision of this important question would be great, perhaps
decisive. Works, i, p. 377.
There was great progress in anti-slavery sentiment between 1785 and
1791, when Maryland was fully awake, as we see from Dr. Buchanan's
Oration. In proof of this progress, it may be stated that, in 1784, Mr.
Jefferson drew up an ordinance for the government of the Western
territories, in which he inserted an article prohibiting slavery in the
territories after the year 1800. On reporting the ordinance to the
Continental Congress, the article prohibiting slavery was forthwith
stricken out, and the report, as amended, was accepted; but the
ordinance itself was a dead letter. Three years later, the celebrated
Ordinance of 1787, for the organization of the Northwest Territory,
embracing what is now the States of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan,
and Wisconsin, was reported by a committee consisting of Edward
Carrington of Virginia, Nathan Dane of Massachusetts, Richard Henry Lee
of Virginia, John Kean of South Carolina, and Melanethon Smith of New
York, acting under the advice of Dr. Mannasseh Cutler, citizen of
Massachusetts, who was then in New York, attending the session of
Congress, for the purpose of buying land for the Ohio Company, which
made, the next year, the first English settlement in that Territory, at
Marietta. The Ordinance provided that there shall be neither slavery
nor involuntary servitude in the said Territory. It was passed without
debate, or the offer (except by the committee) of an amendment, by the
vote of every state. A few years earlier or later, such a vote would
have been impossible. Just before this date, commenced the great
Southern awakening on the subject of slavery, of which so little is now
known, and of which Dr. Buchanan's Oration is an illustration.
There never has been a time since 1619, when the first slave ship, a
Dutch man-of-war, entered James river, in Virginia, when in our country
there were not persons protesting against the wickedness and impolicy
of the African slave trade and of the domestic slave system. Slavery
was introduced into the American colonies, against the wishes of the
settlers, by the avarice of British traders and with the connivance of
the British government. Just previous to the Revolution, the Colony of
Massachusetts made several attempts to relieve itself of the incubus,
and the acts of the General Court were smothered or vetoed by three
successive Governors, under the plea that they had such instructions
from England. In 1772, the Assembly of Virginia petitioned the throne
of England to stop the importation of slaves, using language as
follows: We are encouraged to look up to the throne and implore your
Majesty's paternal assistance in averting a calamity of a most alarming
nature. The importation of slaves into the colonies from the coast of
Africa hath long been considered as a trade of great inhumanity, and
under its present encouragement, we have much reason to fear will
endanger the very existence of your Majesty's dominions. Deeply
impressed with these sentiments, we most humbly beseech your Majesty to
remove all restraints on your Majesty's Governors of this colony, which
inhibit to their assisting to such laws as might check so very
pernicious a commerce. No notice was taken of the petition by the
crown. This was the principal grievance complained of by Virginia at
the commencement of the revolutionary war.
The limits allowed me forbid my giving even a sketch of legislative
action, of the opinions of great men, of the labors of Samuel Sewall,
George Keith, Samuel Hopkins, William Burling, Ralph Sandiford, Anthony
Benezet, Benjamin Lay, John Woolman, and others, and of the literature
of the subject, from the beginning of the irrepressible conflict in
1619 down to the period we are considering.
The revolutionary war, and the questions which then arose, turned
the thoughts of men, as never before, to the injustice and impolicy of
slavery. At the first general Congress of the colonies, held at
Philadelphia in 1774, Mr. Jefferson presented an exposition of rights,
in which he says: The abolition of slavery is the greatest object of
desire in these colonies, when it was unhappily introduced in their
infant state. Among the articles of association adopted by that
Congress, October 20, 1774, was this: That we will neither import, nor
purchase any slave imported, after the first day of December next, nor
will we hire our vessels, nor sell our commodities or manufactures to
those who are concerned in the slave trade.
The first anti-slavery society, in this or any other country, was
formed April 14, 1775, at the Sun Tavern, on Second street, in
Philadelphia. The original members of this society were mostly, and
perhaps all of them, Friends or Quakers. This religious society had,
for any years earnestly protested against slavery. As early as 1696 the
yearly meeting had cautioned its members against encouraging the
bringing in of any more negroes. In 1743, and, again in 1755, the
annual query was made, whether their members were clear of importing or
buying slaves. In 1758, those who disobeyed the advice of the yearly
meeting were placed under discipline; and in 1776, those who continued
to hold slaves over the lawful age, were disowned.
The first anti-slavery society took the name of The Society for the
Relief of Free Negroes unlawfully held in Bondage. The society met
four times in 1775, and on account of the war no meeting occurred again
until February, 1784. I was so fortunate to find among some pamphlets,
presented to our Public Library a short time since, an original copy of
the Rules and Regulations of this society, printed in 1784, which I
have here. Regular meetings were held till April, 1787, when the
constitution was revised and made to include the Abolition of Slavery
as well as the Relief of Free Negroes and Dr. Benjamin Franklin was
chosen president, and Benjamin Rush, secretary, both signers of the
Declaration of Independence.
The society entered with zeal upon its mission, circulating its
documents, and opening a correspondence with eminent men in the United
States and in Europe.
The New York Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves was
organized January 25, 1785, and John Jay was the first president. On
being appointed Chief Justice of the United States, he resigned, and
Alexander Hamilton was appointed to his place. This society circulated
gratuitously Dr. Samuel Hopkins's Dialogue on Slavery, and Address to
Slaveholders, and other documents. In 1787, the Society offered a gold
medal for the best discourse, at the public commencement of Columbia
College, on the injustice and cruelty of the slave-trade, and the fatal
effects of slavery. The London Society was organized July 17, 1787; the
Paris Society in February, 1788; and the Delaware Society the same
year. The Maryland Society was formed September 8, 1789, and
the same year the Rhode Island Society was organized in the house of
Dr. Hopkins, at Newport. In 1790, the Connecticut Society was formed,
of which Dr. Ezra Stiles, President of Yale College, and Judge Simeon
Baldwin, were the president and secretary. The Virginia Society was
formed in 1791; and the New Jersey Society in 1792.
The principal officers of these societies were not fanatics; they
were most eminent men in the landjudges of the courts, members of the
Constitutional Convention and of the Continental and United States
It is to be observed that there was no anti-slavery society in
Massachusetts, which enjoys the reputation of originating all the
radicalism of the land. Slavery had come to an end there, about the
year 1780; but when, or how, nobody is able to say definitely. Some
even say that it was abolished there in 1776, by the Declaration of
Independence declaring that all men are created equal. Others claim
that, substantially the same clause, all men are born free and equal,
incorporated into the declaration of rights in the State Constitution
of 1780, abolished slavery. There was no action of the State
Legislature on the subject, and no proclamation by the governor; yet it
was as well settled in 1783, that there was no slavery in
Massachusetts, as it is to-day. This came about by a decision of the
Supreme Court that there was no slavery in the State, it being
incompatible with the declaration of rights. How, or by what act
particularly, says Chief Justice Shaw, slavery was abolished in
Massachusetts, whether by the adoption of the opinion in Somerset's
case as a declaration and modification of the common law, or by the
Declaration of Independence, or by the constitution of 1780, it is not
now very easy to determine; it is rather a matter of curiosity than
utility, it being agreed on all hands that, if not abolished before, it
was by the declaration of rights. 18 Pickering, 209.
Mr. Sumner asserted, in a speech in the Senate, June 28, 1854, that
in all her annals, no person was ever born a slave on the soil of
Massachusetts. Mr. Palfrey, in his History of New England, says:
In fact, no person was ever born into legal slavery in Massachusetts;
and Prof. Emory Washburn, in his Lecture, January 22, 1869, on Slavery
as it once prevailed in Massachusetts, says: Nor does the fact
that they were held as slaves, where the question as to their being
such was never raised, militate with the position already statedthat
no child was ever born into lawful bondage in Massachusetts,
from the year 1641 to the present hour.
These statements, in substance the same, seem like a technical
evasion. Thousands were born into actual slaverywhether it were legal
or not was poor consolation to the slavelived as slaves, were sold as
slaves, and died as slaves in Massachusetts. They never knew they were
freemen. The number of slaves in Massachusetts in 1776 was 5,249, about
half of whom were owned in Boston, which had then a population of
17,500. The proportion of slaves to the whole population of Boston in
1776, was six times as great as the number of colored persons in
Cincinnati to-day is to the whole population, and ten times as great as
the present proportion of colored persons in Boston.
The same declaration, that all men are created equally free and
independent, is found in the constitutions of New Hampshire and
Virginia; but it did not in these states receive the same construction
as in Massachusetts. In New Hampshire it was construed to mean that all
persons born after 1784the date of the adoption of the
Constitutionwere equally free and independent. In other words, it
brought about gradual emancipation. In Virginia, it was simply a
glittering generalityit had no legal meaning.
In addition to the State Societies already named, there were several
local societies in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. All the
abolition societies in the country were in correspondence and acted
together. At the suggestion of the New York Society, a convention of
delegates was called for the purpose of deliberating on the means of
attaining their common object, and of uniting in a memorial to
Congress. Delegates from ten of these societies, including the
Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York,
Connecticut, and Rhode Island State Societies, and two local societies
on the eastern shore of Maryland, met on the first day of January,
1794, at the Select Council Chamber in Philadelphia, and drew up a
joint memorial to Congress, asking for a law making the use of vessels
and men in the slave trade a penal offense. Such a law was passed by
Congress without debate. These societies held annual conventions
for many years. The convention recommended that such meetings of
delegates be annually convened; that annual or periodical discourses or
orations be delivered in public on slavery and the means of its
abolition, in order that, by the frequent application of the force of
reason and the persuasive power of eloquence, slaveholders and their
abettors may be awakened to a sense of their injustice, and be startled
with horror at the enormity of their conduct.
The convention also adopted an address To the citizens of the
United States, which was drawn up by Dr. Benjamin Rush.
Similar societies were formed in London and Paris, with whom these
societies were in constant correspondence. Pennsylvania passed an act
of gradual emancipation in 1780, and Rhode Island and Connecticut in
1784. A similar act, making all children born thereafter free, did not
pass the Legislature of New York till 1799. In the meantime these
societies were pouring in their memorials to State Legislatures and
Congress, holding meetings, distributing documents, and rousing public
sentiment to the enormities of the slave system.
The Connecticut petitioners say: From a sober conviction of the
unrighteousness of slavery, your petitioners have long beheld with
grief our fellow-men doomed to perpetual bondage in a country which
boasts of her freedom. Your petitioners are fully of opinion that calm
reflection will at last convince the world that the whole system of
American slavery is unjust in its nature, impolitic in its principles,
and in its consequences ruinous to the industry and enterprise of the
citizens of these states.
The Virginia Society, petitioning Congress, says: Your
memorialists, fully aware that righteousness exalteth a nation, and
that slavery is not only an odious degradation, but an outrageous
violation of one of the most essential rights of human nature, and
utterly repugnant to the precepts of the gospel, which breathes 'peace
on earth and good will to men,' lament that a practice so inconsistent
with true policy and the inalienable rights of men should subsist in so
enlightened an age, and among a people professing that all mankind are,
by nature, equally entitled to freedom.
The Pennsylvania Society memorialized Congress thus: The memorial
respectfully showeth: That from a regard for the happiness of mankind,
an association was formed several years since in this state, by a
number of her citizens of various religious denominations, for
promoting the abolition of slavery, and for the relief of those
unlawfully held in bondage. A just and acute conception of the true
principles of liberty, as it spread through the land, produced
accessories to their numbers, many friends to their cause, and a
legislative co-operation with their views, which, by the blessing of
Divine Providence, have been successfully directed to the relieving
from bondage a large number of their fellow-creatures of the African
race. They have also the satisfaction to observe that in consequence of
that spirit of philanthropy and genuine liberty, which is generally
diffusing its beneficial influence, similar institutions are forming at
home and abroad.
That mankind are all formed by the same Almighty Being, alike
objects of his care and equally designed for the enjoyment of
happiness, the Christian religion teaches us to believe, and the
political creed of Americans fully coincides with the position.
Your memorialists, particularly engaged in attending to the
distresses arising from slavery, believe it their indispensable duty to
present the subject to your notice. They have observed with real
satisfaction, that many important and salutary powers are vested in you
for 'promoting the welfare and securing the blessings of liberty to the
people of the United States;' and as they conceive that these blessings
ought rightfully to be administered without distinction of color to all
descriptions of people, so they indulge themselves in the pleasing
expectation that nothing which can be done for the relief of the
unhappy objects of their care will be either omitted or delayed.
From a persuasion that equal liberty was originally the portion,
and is still the birthright of all men, and influenced by the strong
ties of humanity and the principles of their institution, your
memorialists conceive themselves bound to use all justifiable endeavors
to loosen the bands of slavery, and promote a general enjoyment of the
blessings of freedom. Under these impressions they earnestly entreat
your serious attention to the subject of slavery; that you will be
pleased to countenance the restoration to liberty of those unhappy men,
who, alone, in this land of freedom, are degraded into perpetual
bondage; and who, amidst the general joy of surrounding freemen, are
groaning in servile subjection; that you will devise means for removing
this inconsistency from the character of the American people; and that
you will step to the very verge of the power vested in you for
discouraging every species of traffic in the persons of our
fellow-men, Annals of Congress, i, p. 1239.
This memorial was drawn up and signed by BENJAMIN FRANKLIN,
President, Feb. 3, 1790. It was the last public act of that
eminent man. He died on the 17th day of the April following. It will be
observed that the memorial strikes at slavery itself, on the ground
that the institution is unjust, and a national disgrace. It was so
understood in Congress, and ruffled the equanimity of the
representatives of South Carolina and Georgia. Mr. Jackson, of Georgia,
distinguished himself in the debate by an elaborate defense of the
institution. He was especially annoyed that Dr. Franklin's name should
be attached to the memorial, a man, he said, who ought to have known
the constitution better.
Dr. Franklin, though confined to his chamber, and suffering under a
most painful disease, could not allow the occasion to pass without
indulging his humor at the expense of Mr. Jackson. He wrote to the
editor of the Federal Gazette, March 23, 1790, as follows:
Reading, last night, in your excellent paper, the speech of Mr.
Jackson, in Congress, against their meddling with the affair of
slavery, or attempting to mend the condition of the slaves, it put me
in mind of a similar one made about one hundred years since by Sidi
Mehemet Ibrahim, a member of the Divan of Algiers, which may be seen in
Martin's Account of his Consulship, anno 1687. It was against granting
the petition of a sect called Erika, or Purists, who prayed for
the abolition of piracy and slavery as being unjust. Mr. Jackson does
not quote it; perhaps he has not seen it. If, therefore, some of its
reasonings are to be found in his eloquent speech, it may only show
that men's interests and intellects operate, and are operated on, with
surprising similarity, in all countries and climates, whenever they are
under similar circumstances. The African's speech, as translated, is as
follows. He then goes on to make an ingenious parody of Mr. Jackson's
speech, making this African Mussulman give the same religious, and
other reasons, for not releasing the white Christian slaves, whom they
had captured by piracy, that Mr. Jackson had made for not releasing
African slaves. There were inquiries in the libraries for Martin's
Account of his Consulship, but it was never found. The paper may be
read in the second volume of Franklin's Works, Sparks' edition, p. 518.
None of Dr. Franklin's writings are more felicitous than this jeu d'
esprit; and it was written only twenty-four days before his death.
In the midst of this period, when anti-slavery opinions were so
generally held by leading statesmen, the Constitution of the United
States was formed. It is due to the framers of that instrument to state
that the entire delegations from the Northern and Middle States, and a
majority of those from Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware were inspired
to a greater or less extent with these sentiments, and would have
supported any practical measures that would, in a reasonable time, have
put an end to slavery. South Carolina and Georgia positively refused to
come into the Union unless the clause, denying to Congress the power to
prohibit the importation of slaves prior to 1808, was inserted. The
Northern States were not so strenuous in opposition to this clause as
Virginia and Maryland. State after state was abolishing the
institution; anti-slavery opinions were becoming universal; and it was
generally supposed at the North that slavery would soon die out. The
financial and business interests of the country were prostrated. Union
at any cost must be had. The words slave and slavery were
carefully avoided in the draft, and the best terms possible were made
for South Carolina and Georgia. The Constitution, as finally adopted,
suited nobody; and by the narrowest margins it escaped being rejected
in all the States. The vote in the Massachusetts Convention was 187
yeas to 168 nays; and in the Virginia Convention, 89 yeas to 78 nays.
From this examination of the subject, we see that the popular idea,
that the political anti-slavery agitation was forced upon the South by
the North, and especially by Massachusetts, is not a correct one. In
the second period of excited controversy, from 1820 to 1830, the South
again took the lead. In 1827, there were one hundred and thirty
abolition societies in the United States. Of these one hundred and six
were in the slaveholding States, and only four in New England and New
York. Of these societies eight were in Virginia, eleven in Maryland,
two in Delaware, two in the District of Columbia, eight in Kentucky,
twenty-five in Tennessee, with a membership of one thousand, and fifty
in North Carolina, with a membership of three thousand persons.
Many of these societies were the result of the personal labors of
The Southampton insurrection of 1830, and indications of
insurrection in North Carolina the same year, swept away these
societies and their visible results. The fifteen years from 1830 to
1845 were the darkest period the American slave ever saw. It was the
reign of violence and mob law at the North. This was the second great
reaction. The first commenced with the invention of the cotton-gin, by
Eli Whitney, in 1793, and continued till the question of the admission
of Missouri came up in 1820. The third reaction was a failure; it
commenced in 1861, and resulted in the overthrow of the institution.
In the year 1791, the date that Dr. Buchanan delivered his oration
at Baltimore, the College of William and Mary, in Virginia, conferred
upon Granville Sharp, the great abolition agitator of England, the
degree of LL. D. Granville Sharp had no other reputation than his
anti-slavery record. This slender straw shows significantly the current
of public opinion in Virginia at that time. If Granville Sharp had come
over some years later to visit the President and Fellows of the College
which had conferred upon him so distinguished a honor, it might have
been at the risk of personal liberty, if not of life.
Colleges are naturally conservative, both from principle and from
policy. Harvard College has never conferred upon Wm. Lloyd Garrison the
least of its academic honors. Wendell Phillips, its own alumnus, the
most eloquent of its living orators, and having in his veins a strain
of the best blood of Boston, has always been snubbed at the literary
and festive gatherings of the College. Southern gentlemen, however,
agitators of the divine and biblical origin of slavery, have ever found
a welcome on those occasions, for which latter courtesy the College
should be honored.
If the visitor who records his name in the register of the
Massachusetts Historical Society, will turn to the first leaf, he will
find standing at the head the autograph of Jefferson Davis. Whether
this position of honor was assigned by intention, or occurred
accidentally, I can not state. But there it is, and if you forget to
look for yourself, it will probably be shown to you by the attendant.
Mr. Davis, with his family, visited Boston in 1858, and was received
with marked attention by all. During this visit he was introduced, and
frequently came to the Athenaeum, where I made his acquaintance. Among
other objects of interest in the institution, I showed him Washington's
library and this oration of Dr. Buchanan. Nothing so fixed his
attention as this; he read it and expressed himself amazed. He had
heard that such sentiments were expressed at the South, but had never
I am conscious that while I have taxed your patience, I have given
but an imperfect presentation of the subject. If this endeavor shall
serve to incite members of the Club to investigate the subject for
themselves, my object will have been attained.
 The questionable morality of Gen. Washington's motto might
suggest that it was not originally adopted by him. The sentiment, that
the end justifies the means, has been charged, as a reproach, upon
the Jesuits. It was the motto of the Northamptonshire family from which
Gen. Washington descended, and was used by him, probably without a
thought of its Jesuitical association, or its meaning.
 On one of the fly-leaves, written in a boy's hand, is Mary
Washington and George Washington. Beneath is this memorandum: The
above is in General Washington's handwriting when nine years of age.
[Signed,] G. W. Parke Custis, who was the grandson of Mrs. Washington,
and the last surviver of the family. He was born in 1781, and died at
the Arlington House in 1857.
In the appraisement of General Washington's estate, after his death,
this book was valued at twenty-five cents, and the Miscellaneous Works
of Col. Humphreys, at three dollars. The boy's scribbling, in the one
case, and the gorgeous binding in the other, probably determined these
values. In the appendix of Mr. Everett's Life of Washington, is printed
the appraisers' inventory of Washington's library. Tracts on Slavery
was valued at $1.00; Life of John Buncle, 2 vols., $3.00; Peregrine
Pickle, 3 vols., $1.50; Humphrey Clinker, 25c., Jefferson's Notes on
Virginia, $1.50, Tom Jones, or the History of a Foundling, 3 vols.,
(third vol. wanting) $1.50; Gulliver's Travels, 2 vols., $1.50; Pike's
 The first of these tracts is A Serious Address to the Rulers of
America, on the Inconsistency of their Conduct respecting Slavery:
forming a contest between the encroachments of England on American
liberty, and American injustice in tolerating slavery. By a Farmer,
London, 1783. 24 pages. 8vo. The author compared, in opposite columns,
the speeches and resolutions of the members of Congress in behalf of
their own liberty, with their conduct in continuing the slavery of
others. I have never seen the name of the author of this tract. It was
extensively circulated at the time, and had much influence in forming
the anti-slavery sentiment which later existed. Another is An Essay on
the Impolicy of the African Slave Trade. In two Parts. By the Rev. T.
Clarkson, M. A. To which is added an Oration upon the Necessity of
Establishing at Paris a Society for Promoting the Abolition of the
Trade and Slavery of the Negroes. By J. P. Brissot de Warville.
Philadelphia: Printed by Francis Bailey, for 'the Pennsylvania Society
for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery and the Relief of Free Negroes
unlawfully held in Bondage.' 1789. 155 pp. 8vo.
 These facts may also be found in Steadman's Narrative of an
Expedition to Surinam, vol. 2. p. 160; in Bishop Gregoire's Enquiry
into the Intellectual and Moral Faculties and Literature of Negroes,
p. 153; in Edw. Needles' Historical Memoir of the Pennsylvania Society
for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, p. 32; and in Brissot de
Warville's New Travels in the United States, p. 287, ed. 1792.
 Mr. Needles says: He was visited by William Hartshorn and
Samuel Coates of this city (Philadelphia), and gave correct answers to
all their questionssuch as how many seconds there are in a year and a
half. In two minutes he answered 47,304,000. How many seconds in
seventy years, seventeen days, twelve hours. In one minute and a half,
2,110,500,800. He multiplied nine figures by nine, etc., etc.
 Accounts of these two black men were prepared by Dr. Rush, for
the information of the London Society.
 Works, iii, p. 291.
 In a letter to M. de Meusnier, dated January 24, 1786, Mr.
Jefferson says: I conjecture there are six hundred and fifty thousand
negroes in the five southermost states, and not fifty thousand in the
rest. In most of the latter, effectual measures have been taken for
their future emancipation. In the former nothing is done toward that.
The disposition to emancipate them is strongest in Virginia. Those who
desire it, form, as yet, the minority of the whole state, but it bears
a respectable proportion to the whole, in numbers and weight of
character; and it is constantly recruiting by the addition of nearly
the whole of the young men as fast as they come into public life. I
flatter myself that it will take place there at some period of time not
very distant. In Maryland and North Carolina, a very few are disposed
to emancipate. In South Carolina and Georgia, not the smallest symptom
of it; but, on the contrary, these two states and North Carolina
continue importations of slaves. These have long been prohibited in all
the other states. Works, ix, p. 290.
 De la Litterature des Negres; ou Recherches aur leurs Facultes
Intellectuelles, leurs Qualites Morales et leur Litterature, Paris,
1808. 8vo. The work was translated by D. B. Warden, Secretary of the
American Legation at Paris, and printed at Brooklyn, New York, in 1810.
 Gen. Washington, although a slaveholder, put on record
throughout his voluminous correspondence his detestation of the system
of slavery, as practiced at the South.
M. Brissot de Warville, in connection with Gen. Lafayette and other
French philanthropists, early in the year 1788, formed at Paris the
Philanthropic Society of the Friends of Negroes, to co-operate with
those in America and London, in procuring the abolition of the traffic
in, and the slavery of, the blacks. In furtherance of this object, M.
Brissot de Warville delivered an oration in Paris, February 17, 1788,
which was translated and printed by the Pennsylvania Abolition Society,
in Philadelphia, the next year. In May of the same year, he arrived in
the United States, and wrote the most impartial and instructive book of
travels in America (with the exception of M. de Tocqueville's), that
has ever been made by a foreigner, of which several editions in English
were printed in London. His principles brought him into intimate
relations with persons who held anti-slavery sentiments, and his work
gives a very interesting epitome of the prevalence of those sentiments
at that period.
He visited General Washington at Mount Vernon, and conversed with
him freely on the subject of slavery. He states that the General had
three hundred slaves distributed in log houses in different parts of
his plantation of ten thousand acres. They were treated, he said,
with the greatest humanity; well fed, well clothed, and kept to
moderate labor. They bless God without ceasing for having given them so
good a master. It is a task worthy of a soul so elevated, so pure and
so disinterested, to begin the revolution in Virginia to prepare the
way for the emancipation of the negroes. This great man declared to me
that he rejoiced at what was doing in other States on the subject [of
emancipationalluding to the recent formation of several state
societies]; that he sincerely desired the extension of it in his own
State; but he did not dissemble that there were still many obstacles to
be overcome; that it was dangerous to strike too vigorously at a
prejudice which had begun to diminish; that time, patience, and
information would not fail to vanquish it. Almost all the Virginians,
he added, believe that the liberty of the blacks can not become
general. This is the reason why they do not wish to form a society
which may give dangerous ideas to their slaves. There is another
obstaclethe great plantations of which the state is composed, render
it necessary for men to live so dispersed that frequent meetings of a
society would be difficult.
I replied, that the Virginians were in an error; that evidently,
sooner or later, the negroes would obtain their liberty everywhere. It
is then for the interests of your countrymen to prepare the way to such
a revolution, by endeavoring to reconcile the restitution of the rights
of the blacks, with the interest of the whites. The means necessary to
be taken to this effect can only be the work of a society; and it is
worthy the saviour of America to put himself at the head, and to open
the door of liberty to 300,000 unhappy beings of his own State. He told
me that he desired the formation of a society, and that he would second
it; but that he did not think the moment favorable. Doubtless more
elevated views filled his soul. The destiny of America was just ready
to be placed a second time in his hands. Ed. of 1792, pp. 290, 291.
The strongest objection to freeing the negroes lies in the
character, the manners, and habits of the Virginians. They seem to
enjoy the sweat of slaves. They are fond of hunting; they love the
display of luxury, and disdain the idea of labor. This order of things
will change when slavery shall be no more. Id., p. 281.
Patrick Henry, in the Virginia Constitutional Convention, opposing
the adoption of the Federal Constitution, said: In this State there
are 236,000 blacks. May Congress not say that every black man must
fight? Did we not see a little of this in the last war? We were not so
hard pushed as to make emancipation general; but acts of Assembly
passed that every slave who would go to the army should be free.
Another thing will contribute to bring this event [emancipation] about.
Slavery is detested. We feel its fatal effects; we deplore it with all
the pity of humanity. Have they [Congress] not power to provide for the
general defense and welfare? May they not think that these call for the
abolition of slavery? May they not pronounce all slaves free, and will
they not be warranted by that power?
I repeat it again, that it would rejoice my very soul, that every
one of my fellow-beings were emancipated. As we ought, with gratitude,
to admire that decree of Heaven which has numbered us among the free,
we ought to lament and deplore the necessity of holding our fellow-men
in bondage. But is it practicable, by any human means, to liberate them
without producing the most dreadful and ruinous consequences?
Elliott's Debates, Va., pp. 590, 591.
George Mason, in the same convention, speaking against article 1,
section 9, of the Constitution, which forbids Congress from prohibiting
the importation of slaves before the year 1808, said: It [the
importation of slaves] was one of the great causes of our separation
from Great Britain. Its exclusion has been a principal object of this
State, and most of the States of the Union. The augmentation of slaves
weakens the States; and such a trade is diabolical in itself, and
disgraceful to mankind: yet, by this Constitution, it is continued for
twenty years. As much as I value a union of all the States, I would not
admit the Southern States into the Union, unless they agree to the
discontinuance of this disgraceful trade, because it brings weakness,
and not strength, to the Union. Elliott's Debates, Va., p. 452.
 Mr. Jefferson's doubts, and his timidity, as a person of
political aspirations, in treating the subject of slavery in a
practical manner, reduced his conduct to the verge of cowardice, if not
of duplicity. While writing to Dr. Price in this assured tone, and
urging him to exhort the young men of the College of William and Mary,
on the evils of slavery, he was afraid to have these same students see
what he had himself written on the same subject, in his Notes on
Virginia. M. de Chastelleux had written to him, desiring to print some
extracts from the Notes on Virginia, in the Journal de Physique. Mr. Jefferson replied, June 7, 1785, only two months before he wrote
the above letter to Dr. Price, saying: I am not afraid that you should
make any extracts you please for the Journal de Physique, which
come within their plan of publication. The strictures on slavery, and
on the constitution of Virginia, are not of that kind and they are the
parts which I do not wish to have made public; at least, till I know
whether their publication would do most harm or good. It is possible
that, in my own country, these strictures might produce an irritation
which would indispose the people toward the two great objects I have in
view; that is, the emancipation of their slaves, and the settlement of
their constitution on a firmer and more permanent basis. If I learn
from thence that they will not produce that effect, have printed and
reserved just copies enough to be able to give one to every young man
at the College. Works, i, p. 339.
Writing from Paris, August 13, 1786, to George Wythe, Mr. Jefferson
says: Madison, no doubt, informed you why I sent only a single copy of
my 'Notes' to Virginia. Being assured by him that they will not do the
harm I had apprehended; but, on the contrary, may do some good, I
propose to send thither the copies remaining on hand, which are fewer
than I intended. Works, ii, p. 6. Mr. Madison's communications to Mr.
Jefferson on the subject are in his Letters and other Writings, i,
pp, 202, 211. M. Brissot de Warville proposed to Mr. Jefferson to
become a member of the Philanthropic Society of Paris. Mr. Jefferson
replied, February 12, 1788, as follows: I am very sensible of the
honor you propose to me, of becoming a member of the society for the
abolition of the slave trade. You know that nobody wishes more ardently
to see an abolition, not only of the trade, but of the condition of
slavery; and certainly nobody will be more willing to encounter every
sacrifice for that object. But the influence and information of the
friends to this proposition in France, will be far above the need of my
association. I am here as a public servant; and those whom I serve,
having never yet been able to give their voice against the practice, it
is decent for me to avoid too public demonstration of my wishes to see
it abolished. Without serving the cause here, it might render me less
able to serve it beyond the water. I trust you will be sensible of the
prudence of those motives, therefore, which govern my conduct on this
occasion and be assured of my wishes for the success of your
undertaking. Works, ii, p. 357.
Compare this record with Mr. Garrison's, which he put forth in the
Liberator, in 1831. He had been accused of using plain and harsh
language. He says: My country is the world, and my countrymen are all
mankind. I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice.
I am in earnest; I will not equivocate; I will not excuse; I will not
retreat a single inch; and I will be heard.
 Mr. Jefferson's indecision in dealing with an institution he so
much abhorred, is seen in the anti-slavery provision of his ordinance.
He would allow slavery to get a foot-hold in the western territories,
and at the end of sixteen years would prohibit it. By southern votes,
this clause was fortunately stricken out. Every northern state voted to
retain Mr. Jefferson's fifth article of compact, and its rejection,
which was regarded at the time, as a public calamity, was soon seen to
be a piece of good fortune. Timothy Pickering, writing to Rufus King,
nearly a year later (March 8, 1785), says: I should indeed have
objected to the period proposed (1800) for the exclusion of slavery;
for the admission of it for a day, or an hour, ought to have been
forbidden. It will be infinitely easier to prevent the evil at first,
than to eradicate it, or check it, at any future time. To suffer the
continuance of slaves till they can be gradually emancipated, in states
already overrun with them, may be pardonable; but to introduce them
into a territory where none now exist, can never be forgiven. For God's
sake, let one more effort be made to prevent so terrible a calamity.
Mr. King, eight days later, moved, in Congress, to attach an article
of compact to Mr. Jefferson's ordinance, in the place of the one
stricken outs in substantially the words that stand in the Ordinance of
1787: That there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in
any of the states described in the resolve of Congress of April 23,
178-. The matter was referred to a committee; but was never taken up
and acted on. If Mr. King's resolution had passed, it would have
excluded slavery from Kentucky, Tennessee, and all the Western
 George Keith, a Quaker, about the year 1693, printed a pamphlet
in which he charged his own religious denomination, that they should
set their negroes at liberty, after some reasonable time of service.
Samuel Sewall, Judge of the Superior Court of Massachusetts, in 1700,
printed a tract against slavery, entitled, The Selling of Joseph, a
Memorial, which he gave to each member of the General Court, to
clergymen, and to literary gentlemen with whom he was acquainted. This
tract is reprinted in Moore's Notes on Slavery in Massachusetts, p.
83. These were the earliest publications on slavery in this country.
Dr. Franklin having mentioned Keith's pamphlet, says: About the year
1728 or 1729, I myself printed a book for Ralph Sandyford, another of
your friends in this city, against keeping negroes in slavery; two
editions of which he distributed gratis. And about the year 1736, I
printed another book on the same subject for Benjamin Lay, who also
professed being one of your friends, and he distributed the books
chiefly among them. Works, x, 403.
The earliest statute for the suppression of slavery in the colonies
may be seen in Rhode Island Records, i, 248, under the date of May 19,
1652, which, however, was never enforced.
The earliest legislative protest against man-stealing, is the
following: The General Court, conceiving themselves bound by the first
opportunity, to bear witness against the heinous and crying sin of
man-stealing, and also to prescribe such timely redress for what is
past, and such a law for the future, as may sufficiently deter all
others belonging to us to have to do in such vile and most odious
courses, justly abhorred of all good and just mendo order that the
negro interpreter, with others unlawfully take, be, by the first
opportunity, (at the charge of the country for present) sent to his
native country of Guinea, and a letter with him of the indignation of
the Court thereabouts, and justice hereofdesiring our honored
Governor would please to put this order in execution. November 4,
1646, Massachusetts Records, ii, p. 168.
 Patrick Henry, in a letter dated January 18, 1773, to Robert
Pleasants, afterwards President of the Virginia Abolition Society,
said: Believe me, I shall honor the Quakers for their noble efforts to
abolish slavery. It is a debt we owe to the purity of our religion to
show that it is at variance with that law that warrants slavery. I
exhort you to persevere in so worthy a resolution. I believe a time
will come when an opportunity will be offered to abolish this
lamentable evil. Wm. Goodell's Slavery and Anti-Slavery, p. 70.
 The preamble of the Constitution then adopted was as follows:
Whereas, there are in this and the neighboring states a number of
negroes and others kept in a state of slavery, who, we apprehend, from
different causes and circumstances, are justly entitled to their
freedom by the laws and Constitution under which we live, could their
particular cases be candidly and openly debated, and evidence to the
best advantage for them procured; but as in their situation, they,
being tied by the strong cords of oppression, are rendered incapable of
asserting their freedom, and many through this inability remain
unjustly in bondage through life; it therefore has appeared necessary
that some aid should be extended towards such poor unhappy sufferers,
wherever they may be discovered, either in this city or its
neighborhood; and, as loosing the bonds of wickedness, and setting the
oppressed free, is evidently a duty incumbent on all professors of
Christianity, but more especially at a time when justice, liberty, and
the laws of the land are the general topics among most ranks and
stations of men. Therefore, being desirous, as much as in us lies, to
contribute towards obtaining relief for all such as are kept thus
unjustly in thralldom, we have agreed to inspect and take charge of all
the particular cases which may hereafter come to our knowledge; and
that our good intentions may operate the more successfully, and be of
general utility to such as stand in need of our assistance, we judge it
expedient to form ourselves into a regular society, by the name of The
Society for the Relief of Free Negroes unlawfully held in Bondage. The
officers elected were John Baldwin, President; Samuel Davis, Treasurer;
Thomas Harrison, Secretary. Six members were also appointed a Committee
of Inspection, and a number of cases were forthwith committed to their
care. Edw. Needles's Historical Memoir of the Pennsylvania Society, p.
 Appended to the Rules and Regulations, is the act of 1780,
providing for the gradual abolition of slavery in Pennsylvania. The
members of the Philadelphia Society were especially active in procuring
the passage of this act. Anthony Benezet held private interviews with
every member of the government on the subject. The act passed the
assembly by a vote of 34 to 21. The minority entered a protest against
it on several grounds: First, because it would be offensive to other
states, and would weaken the bonds of union with them; Second, while
they approved of the justice and humanity of manumitting slaves in time
of peace, this was not the proper time; Third, they did not approve of
slaves becoming citizens, of their voting and being voted for, of
intermarrying with white persons, etc.; Fourth, because the motion to
postpone to the next session of the Assembly had been overruled.
 James Pemberton and Jonathan Penrose were chosen
Vice-Presidents; James Starr, Treasurer; and Wm. Lewis, John D. Cox,
Miers Fisher, and Wm. Rawle, Counselors. Thirty-six new members were
elected at this meeting. The preamble of the new organization was as
follows: It having pleased the Creator of the world to make of one
flesh all the children of men, it becomes them to consult and promote
each other's happiness, as members of the same family, however
diversified they may be by color, situation, religion, or different
states of society. It is more especially the duty of those persons who
profess to maintain for themselves the rights of human nature, and who
acknowledge the obligations of Christianity, to use such means as are
in their power to extend the blessings of freedom to every part of the
human race; and in a more particular manner to such of their
fellow-creatures as are entitled to freedom by the laws and
constitutions of any of the United States, and who, notwithstanding,
are detained in bondage by fraud or violence. From a full conviction of
the truth and obligation of these principles; from a desire to diffuse
them wherever the miseries and vices of slavery exist, and in humble
confidence of the favor and support of the Father of mankind, the
subscribers have associated themselves, under the title of 'The
Pennsylvania Society for promoting the Abolition of Slavery, and the
Relief of Free Negroes unlawfully held in Bondage, and for improving
the condition of the African race.' Needles's Memoir, p. 30.
 The secretaries were directed to have one thousand copies of
the Constitution printed, together with the names of the officers of
the society, and the acts of the Legislature of Pennsylvania for the
gradual abolition of slavery. They were also to prepare letters to be
sent to each of the Governors of the United States, with a copy of the
Constitution and laws, and a copy of Clarkson's essay on The Commerce
and Slavery of the Africans. They were also directed to write letters
to the Society in New York, to Thomas Clarkson and Dr. Price of London,
and to the Abbe Raynall, in France. Needles's Memoir, p. 30.
Dr. Franklin drew up a Plan for Improving the Condition of the Free
Blacks. It embraced: First, a Committee of Inspection, who shall
superintend the morals, general conduct, and ordinary situation of the
free negroes, and afford them advice and instruction, protection from
wrongs, and other friendly offices. Second, a Committee of Guardians,
who shall place out children and young people with suitable persons,
that they may, during a moderate time of apprenticeship or servitude,
learn some trade, other business of subsistence. Third, a Committee of
Education, who shall superintend the school instruction, of the
children and youth of the free blacks. Fourth, a Committee of Employ,
who shall endeavor to procure constant employment for those free
negroes who are able to work, as the want of this would occasion
poverty, idleness, and many vicious habits. The entire plan may be seen
in Dr. Franklin's Works, ii, pp. 513, 514. Immediately following, in
the same volume, is An Address to the Public, from the Pennsylvania
Society, also written by Dr. Franklin in aid of raising funds for
carrying out the purposes of the society.
M. Brissot de Warville, who visited the New York and Philadelphia
Societies in 1788, says: It is certainly a misfortune that such
societies do not exist in Virginia and Maryland, for it is to the
persevering zeal of those of Philadelphia and New York, that we owe the
progress of this [anti-slavery] revolution in America, and the
formation of the Society in London. He speaks of the impressions he
received in attending the meetings of these societies. What serenity
in the countenances of the members! What simplicity in their
discourses; candor in their discussions; beneficence and energy in
their decisions! With what joy they learned that a like Society was
formed in Paris! They hastened to publish it in their gazettes, and
likewise a translation of the first discourse [his own] pronounced in
that society. These beneficent societies are at present contemplating
new projects for the completion of their work of justice and humanity.
They are endeavoring to form similar institutions in other states, and
have succeeded in the state of Delaware. The business of these
societies is not only to extend light and information to legislatures
and to the people at large, and to form the blacks by early instruction
in the duties of citizens; but they extend gratuitous protection to
them in all cases of individual oppression, and make it their duty to
watch over the execution of the laws, which have been obtained in their
favor. Mr. Myers Fisher, one of the first lawyers of Philadelphia, is
always ready to lend them his assistance, which he generally does with
success, and always without reward. These societies have committees in
different parts of the country to take notice of any infractions of
these laws of liberty, and to propose to the legislature such
amendments as experience may requirepp. 291-294.
In an appendix, written in 1791, he says: My wishes have not been
disappointed. The progress of these societies is rapid in the United
States; there is one already formed even in Virginia. His English
translator adds, that there has also one been formed in the state of
In Needles' Memoir are the names of the following persons who were
officers, and served on committees, of the Pennsylvania Society before
the year 1800: John Baldwin, Samuel Davis, Thomas Harrison, Anthony
Benezet, Thomas Meredith, John Todd, James Starr, Samuel Richards,
James Whitehall, Wm. Lippencott, John Thomas, Benjamin Horner, John
Evans, Lambert Wilmore, Edward Brooks, Thomas Armit, John Warner,
Daniel Sidrick, Thomas Barton, Robert Evans, Benj. Miers, Robert Wood,
John Eldridge, Jonathan Penrose, Wm. Lewis, Francis Baily, Norris
Jones, Tench Cox, Wm. Jackson, Benj. Rush, Benj. Franklin, James
Pemberton, John D. Cox, Wm. Rawle, Miers Fisher, Temple Franklin, John
Andrews, Richard Peters, Thomas Paine, Caleb Lownes, S. P. Griffiths,
John Olden, John Todd, Jr., John Kaighn, Wm. Rogers, Benj. Say, Thomas
Parker, Robert Waln, Samuel Pancoast, Thomas Savery, Robert Taggert,
John Poultney, Wm. Zane, Joseph Moore, Joseph Budd, Wm. McIllhenny,
Samuel Baker, Jonathan Willis, Richard Jones, Ellis Yarnall, Thomas
Arnott, Philip Benezet, Samuel Emlen, Jr., Jacob Shoemaker, Jr.,
Richard Wells, Bart. Wistar, R. Wells, J. McCrea, Nathan Boys, J.
Proctor, Robert Patterson, Walter Franklin, Edward Farris, John Ely,
Samuel M. Fox, Sallows Shewell, John Woodside, Wm. Garrum, Thomas Ross,
Joseph Sharpless, Joseph Cruikshanks, G. Williams, Wm. Webb, Geo.
Williams, David Thomas, Samuel Bettle, Edward Garrigues.
 At the end of M. Brissot de Warville's oration at Paris,
February 19, 1788, on the necessity of establishing such a society, is
a note, which states that, after the Paris Society had been formed, in
the space of six weeks, ninety others, distinguished for their
nobility, for their offices, and as men of letters, have made
application to be admitted into the Society. The Marquis de la Fayette
is one of the founders of this Society, and he gives it a support, so
much the more laudable, as the Society of Paris has many great
difficulties to encounter, which are unknown to the societies in London
 M. Brissot, writing in September, 1788, speaks of the Delaware
Society as then existing. Warner Mifflin was its most enterprising
member. M. Brissot says of him: One of the ardent petitioners to
Congress in this cause was the respectable Warner Mifflin. His zeal was
rewarded with atrocious calumnies, which he always answered with
mildness, forgiveness, and argumentp. 300. A petition which Mr.
Mifflin made to Congress in November, 1792, for the abolition of
slavery, was, by vote of the House, returned to him by the clerk.
Annals of Congress, iii, p. 71. On March 23, 1790, the following
resolution on the subject of emancipation, after discussion in
committee of the whole House, was adopted: That Congress have no
authority to interfere in the emancipation of slaves, or in the
treatment of them in any of the states, it remaining with the several
States alone to provide any regulations therein which humanity and true
policy may require. Annals, i. p. 1523.
 Constitution of the Maryland Society for promoting the
Abolition of Slavery, and the Relief of Free Negroes and others
unlawfully held in Bondage.
The present attention of Europe and America to slavery, seems to
constitute that crisis in the minds of men when the united endeavors of
a few may greatly influence the public opinion, and produce, from the
transient sentiment of the times, effects, extensive, lasting, and
The common Father of mankind created all men free and equal; and his
great command is, that we love our neighbor as ourselvesdoing unto
all men as we would they should do unto us. The human race, however
varied in color or intellects, are all justly entitled to liberty; and
it is the duty and the interest of nations and individuals, enjoying
every blessing of freedoms to remove this dishonor of the Christian
character from amongst them. From the fullest impression of the truth
of these principles; from an earnest wish to bear our testimony against
slavery in all its forms, to spread it abroad as far as the sphere of
our influence may extend, and to afford our friendly assistance to
those who may be engaged in the same undertaking; and in the humblest
hope of support from that Being, who takes, as an offering to himself,
what we do for each other
We, the subscribers, have formed ourselves into the MARYLAND
SOCIETY for promoting the ABOLITION OF SLAVERY, and the RELIEF OF FREE
NEGROES and OTHERS unlawfully held in bondage.
I. The officers of the Society are a president, vice-president,
secretary, treasurer, four counselors, an electing-committee of twelve,
an acting-committee of six members. All these, except the
acting-committee, shall be chosen annually by ballot, on the first
seventh-day called Saturday, in the month called January.
II. The president, and in his absence the vice-president, shall
subscribe all the public acts of the Society.
III. The president, and in his absence, the vice-president, shall
moreover have the power of calling a special meeting of the Society
whenever he shall judge proper, or six members require it.
IV. The secretary shall keep fair records of the proceedings of the
Society; he shall also conduct the correspondence of the Society, with
a committee of three appointed by the president; and all letters on the
business of the Society are to be addressed to him.
V. Corresponding members shall be appointed by the
electing-committee. Their duty shall be to communicate to the secretary
and his assistants any information, that may promote the purposes of
this institution, which shall be transferred by him to the
VI. The treasurer shall pay all orders drawn by the president, or
vice-president; which orders shall be his vouchers for his
expenditures. He shall, before he enters on his office, give a bond of
not less than 200_l. for the faithful discharge of his duty.
VII. The duty of the councilors shall be to explain the laws and
constitutions of the States, which relate to the emancipation of
slaves; and to urge their claims to freedom, when legal, before such
persons or courts as are authorized to decide upon them.
VIII. The electing-committee shall have sole power of admitting new
members. Two-thirds of them shall be a quorum for this purpose; and the
concurrence of a majority of them by ballot, when met, shall be
necessary for the admission of a member. No member shall be admitted
who has not been proposed at a general meeting of the Society nor shall
election of a member take place in less than a month after the time of
his being proposed. Foreigners, or other persons, who do not reside in
this State, may be elected corresponding members of the Society without
being subject to an annual payment, and shall be admitted to the
meetings of the Society during their residence in the State.
IX. The acting-committee shall transact the business of the Society
in its recess, and report the same at each quarterly meeting. They
shall have a right, with the concurrence of the president or
vice-president, to draw upon the treasurer for such sums of money as
may be necessary to carry on the business of their appointment. Four of
them shall be a quorum. After their first election, at each succeeding
quarterly meeting, there shall be an election for two of their number.
X. Every member, upon his admission, shall subscribe the
Constitution of the Society, and contribute ten shillings annually, in
quarterly payments, towards defraying its contingent expenses. If he
neglect to pay the same for more than six months, he shall, upon due
notice being given him, cease to be a member.
XI. The Society shall meet on the first seventh-day, called
Saturday, in the months called January, April, July, and October, at
such time and place as shall be agreed to by a majority of the Society.
XII. No person, holding a slave as his property, shall be admitted a
member of this Society; nevertheless, the Society may appoint persons
of legal knowledge, owners of slaves, as honorary-counselors.
XIII. When an alteration in the Constitution is thought necessary,
it shall be proposed at a previous meeting, before it shall take place.
All questions shall be decided, where there is a division, by a
majority of votes. In those cases where the Society is equally divided,
the presiding officer shall have a casting vote.
OFFICERS OF THE SOCIETY.
CounselorsZEBULON HOLLINGSWORTH, ARCHIBALD ROBINSON.
Honorary-CounselorsSAMUEL CHASE, LUTHER MARTIN.
Electing-CommitteeJAMES OGLEBY, ISAAC GREIST, GEO.
MATTHEWS, GEORGE PRESSTMAN, HENRY WILSON, JOHN BANKSON, ADAM FONERDEN,
JAMES EICHELBERGER, WILLIAM HAWKINS, WILLIAM WILSON, THOMAS DICKSON,
Acting-CommitteeJOHN BROWN, ELISHA TYSON, JAMES M'CANNON,
ELIAS ELLICOTT, WILLIAM TRIMBLE, GEORGE DENT.
September 8, 1789.
 Of the one hundred and eighty-nine incorporators of the Rhode
Island Society, one hundred and seventeen were from Rhode Island,
sixty-eight from Massachusetts, three from Connecticut, and one from
Vermont. The Nation, Nov. 28, 1872.
 St. George Tucker, an eminent jurist, and Professor of Law at
the College of William and Mary, at Williamsburg, Virginia, January 24,
1795, addressed a letter to Dr. Jeremy Belknap, of Boston, inquiring
into the condition of the negroes in Massachusetts, and the
circumstances under which slavery had come to an end in that state. His
object was to obtain facts which he could use in removing prejudice
against general emancipation in Virginia. The introduction of slavery
into this country, he says, is at this day considered among its
greatest misfortunes. I have cherished a hope that we may, from the
example of our sister State, learn what methods are most likely to
succeed in removing the same evils from among ourselves. With this
view, I have taken the liberty to enclose a few queries, which, if your
leisure will permit you to answer, you will confer on me a favor which
I shall always consider as an obligation. He propounded eleven
queries, to which Dr. Belknap replied at length. The correspondence is
printed in the Massachusetts Historical Society's selections, iv, pp.
191-211. The next year Judge Tucker printed, at Philadelphia, his
Dissertation on Slavery, with a proposal for the gradual abolition of
it in Virginia. Dr. Belknap's replies to Judge Tucker's inquiries have
much historical interest. To the fifth query, The mode by which
slavery hath been abolished? he says: The general answer is, that
slavery hath been abolished here by public opinion, which began
to be established about thirty years ago. At the beginning of our
controversy with Great Britain, several persons, who before had
entertained sentiments opposed to the slavery of the blacks, did then
take occasion publicly to remonstrate against the inconsistency of
contending for their own liberty, and, at the same time, depriving
other people of theirs. Pamphlets and newspaper essays appeared on the
subject; it often entered into the conversation of reflecting people;
and many who had, without remorse, been the purchasers of slaves,
condemned themselves, and retracted their former opinion. The Quakers
were zealous against slavery and the slave-trade; and by their means
the writings of Anthony Benezet of Philadelphia, John Woolman of New
Jersey, and others were spread through the country. Nathaniel Appleton
and James Swan, merchants of Boston, and Dr. Benjamin Rush, of
Philadelphia, distinguished themselves as writers on the side of
liberty. Those on the other side generally concealed their names; but
their arguments were not suffered to rest long without an answer. The
controversy began about the year 1766, and was renewed at various times
till 1773, when it was warmly agitated, and became a subject of
forensic disputation at the public commencement at Harvard College. p.
 Vol. ii, p. 30.
 Lectures by Members of the Mass. Historical Society on the
Early History of Massachusetts, p. 216.
 Mr. George H. Moore, in his elaborate work, Notes on the
History of Slavery in Massachusetts, expresses a doubt whether slavery
legally came to an end in Massachusetts at the period stated above; and
perhaps not before the adoption of the fourteenth amendment to the
Constitution. He says: It would not be the least remarkable of the
circumstances connected with this strange and eventful history, that
though virtually abolished before, the actual prohibition of
slavery in Massachusetts, as well as Kentucky, should be accomplished
by the votes of South Carolina and Georgia. p. 242.
 Dr. Belknap says the clause all men are born free and equal
was inserted in the Declaration of Rights of Massachusetts not merely
as a moral and political truth, but with a particular view to establish
the liberation of the negroes on a general principle, and so it was
understood by the people at large; but some doubted whether it was
sufficientp. 203. That some persons had this result in view is
probable; but contemporaneous records and acts of the citizens do not
justify the statement that so it was understood by the people at
large. Dr. Belknap was living in New Hampshire at the time, and did
not come to Boston till 1786. The construction put upon the clause, by
the Supreme Court, was evidently a happy afterthought; and was inspired
by that public opinion to which Dr. Belknap himself, in his
reply to Judge Tucker, ascribes the extinction of slavery.
 The Pennsylvanian Society assumed all the expenses of the
Convention, of entertaining the delegates, and of printing the
proceedings. The delegates of the Pennsylvanian Society were William
Rogers, Samuel P. Griffiths, Samuel Coats, William Rawle, Robert
Patterson, and Benjamin Rush. The printed proceedings of this
convention, which is in the New York Historical Society's library, I
have not had access to. Joseph Bloomfield, of New Jersey, an officer of
the Revolution, attorney-general, governor of the state from 1801-12,
and member of Congress from 1817-21, was president of the Convention.
 The memorial was presented in both branches of Congress,
January 28, 1794. The record in the House was as follows: A memorial
from the several societies formed in different parts of the United
States, for promoting the abolition of slavery, in convention assembled
at Philadelphia, on the first instant, was presented to the House and
read, praying that Congress may adopt such measures as may be the most
effectual and expedient for the abolition of the slave-trade. Also, a
memorial of the Providence Society, for abolishing the slave-trade, to
the same effect. Ordered, That the said memorials be referred to
Mr. Trumbull [of Connecticut], Mr. Ward [of Massachusetts], Mr. Giles
[of Virginia], Mr. Talbot [of New York], and Mr. Grove [of North
Carolina]; that they do examine the matter thereof, and report the
same, with their opinion thereupon, to the House. Annals of Congress,
iv, p. 349.
A bill was reported in conformity to the wishes of the memorialists,
passed its several stages without debate, and was approved March 22,
1794. For the bill, see Id., p. 1426.
 The address is as follows:
To the Citizens of the United States:
The Address of the Delegates from the several Societies formed in
different parts of the United States, for promoting the Abolition of
Slavery, in convention assembled at Philadelphia, on the first day of
FRIENDS AND FELLOW-CITIZENS: United to you by the ties of
citizenship, and partakers with you in the blessings of a free
government, we take the liberty of addressing you upon a subject highly
interesting to the credit and prosperity of the United States.
It is the glory of our country to have originated a system of
opposition to the commerce in that part of our fellow-creatures who
compose the nations of Africa. Much has been done by the citizens of
some of the States to abolish this disgraceful traffic, and to improve
the condition of those unhappy people whom the ignorance, or the
avarice of our ancestors had bequeathed to us as slaves. But the evil
still continues, and our country is yet disgraced by laws and practices
which level the creature man with a part of the brute creation. Many
reasons concur in persuading us to abolish domestic slavery in our
country. It is inconsistent with the safety of the liberties of the
United States. Freedom and slavery can not long exist together. An
unlimited power over the time, labor, and posterity of our
fellow-creatures, necessarily unfits man for discharging the public and
private duties of citizens of a republic. It is inconsistent with sound
policy, in exposing the States which permit it, to all those evils
which insurrections and the most resentful war have introduced into one
of the richest islands in the West Indies. It is unfriendly to the
present exertions of the inhabitants of Europe in favor of liberty.
What people will advocate freedom, with a zeal proportioned to its
blessings, while they view the purest republic in the world tolerating
in its bosom a body of slaves? In vain has the tyranny of kings been
rejected, while we permit in our country a domestic despotism which
involves in its nature most of the vices and miseries that we have
endeavored to avoid. It is degrading to our rank as men in the scale of
being. Let us use our reason and social affections for the purposes for
which they were given, or cease to boast a pre-eminence over animals
that are unpolluted by our crimes.
But higher motives to justice and humanity towards our
fellow-creatures, remain yet to be mentioned. Domestic slavery is
repugnant to the principles of Christianity. It prostrates every
benevolent and just principle of action in the human heart. It is
rebellion against the authority of a common Father. It is a practical
denial of the extent and efficacy of the death of a common Savior. It
is an usurpation of the prerogative of the Great Sovereign of the
universe, who has solemnly claimed an exclusive property in the souls
of men. But if this view of the enormity of the evil of domestic
slavery should not affect us, there is one consideration more, which
ought to alarm and impress us, especially at the present juncture. It
is a violation of a Divine precept of universal justice, which has in
no instance escaped with impunity. The crimes of nations, as well as
individuals, are often designated in their punishments; and we conceive
it to be no forced construction of some of the calamities which now
distress or impend over our country, to believe that they are the
measure of the evils which we have meted to others. The ravages
committed upon many of our fellow-citizens by the Indians, and the
depredations upon the liberty and commerce of others, of the citizens
of the United States by the Algerines, both unite in proclaiming to us
in the most forcible language, 'to loose the bands of wickedness, to
break every yoke, to undo the heavy burthens, and to let the oppressed
We shall conclude this address by recommending to you:
First. To refrain immediately from that species of rapine
and murder which has improperly been softened by the name of the
African trade. It is Indian cruelty and Algerine piracy in another
Second. To form Societies in every State, for the purpose of
promoting the abolition of the slave-trade, of domestic slavery, for
the relief of persons unlawfully held in bondage, and for the
improvement of the condition of Africans and their descendants amongst
The Societies which we represent, have beheld with triumph the
success of their exertions in many instances, in favor of their African
brethren; and, in full reliance upon the continuance of Divine support
and direction, they humbly hope their labors will never cease while
there exists a single slave in the United States.
 Mr. Jackson opposed the reference of the memorial to a
committee, and wished it to be thrown aside. Mr. Burke, of South
Carolina, said he saw the disposition of the House, and feared the
memorial would be referred. He was certain the commitment would sound
an alarm, and blow the trumpet of sedition in the Southern States.
Mr. Seney, of Maryland, denied that there was anything
unconstitutional in the memorial; its only object was that Congress
should exercise their constitutional authority to abate the horrors of
slavery as far as they could.
Mr. Parker, of Virginia, said: I hope the petition of these
respectable people will be attended to with all the readiness the
importance of its object demands; and I cannot help expressing the
pleasure I feel in finding so considerable a part of the community
attending to matters of such momentous concern to the future prosperity
and happiness of the people of America. I think it my duty as a citizen
of the Union to espouse their cause.
Mr. Page, of Virginia (governor from 1802-1805), said he was in
favor of the commitment. He hoped that the designs of the respectable
memorialists would not be stopped at the threshold, in order to
preclude a fair discussion of the prayer of the memorial. With respect
to the alarm that was apprehended, he conjectured there was none; but
there might be just cause, if the memorial was not taken into
consideration. He placed himself in the case of a slave, and said that,
on hearing that Congress had refused to listen to the decent
suggestions of a respectable part of the community, he should infer
that the general government (from which was expected great good would
result to every class of citizens) had shut their ears against the
voice of humanity; and he should despair of any alleviation of the
miseries he and his posterity had in prospect. If anything could induce
him to rebel, it must be a stroke like this. But if he was told that
application was made in his behalf, and that Congress was willing to
hear what could be urged in favor of discouraging the practice of
importing his fellow-wretches, he would trust in their justice and
humanity, and wait for the decision patiently. He presumed that these
unfortunate people would reason in the same way.
Mr. Madison, of Virginia, said, if there were the slightest tendency
by the commitment to break in upon the constitution, he would object to
it; but he did not see upon what ground such an event could be
apprehended. He admitted that Congress was restricted by the
constitution from taking measures to abolish the slave-trade; yet there
was a variety of ways by which it could countenance the abolition of
slavery; and regulations might be made in relation to the introduction
of slaves into the new States, to be formed out of the Western
The memorial was committed by a vote of 43 yeas to 14 nays. Of the
Virginia delegation, 8 voted yea and 2 nay; Maryland, 3 yea, 1 nay;
Delaware and North Carolina, both delegations absent. Mr. Vining, the
member for Delaware, however, spoke and voted later with the friends of
The committee reported on the 8th of March. The report was discussed
in committee of the whole, and amended to read as follows:
First. That the migration or importation of such persons as
any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, can not be
prohibited by Congress prior to the year 1808.
Second. That Congress have no authority to interfere in the
emancipation of slaves, or in the treatment of them, in any of the
Statesit remaining with the several States alone, to provide any
regulations therein which humanity and true policy may require.
Third. That Congress have authority to restrain the citizens
of the United States from carrying on the African trade, for the
purpose of supplying foreigners with slaves, and of providing, by
proper regulations, for the humane treatment during their passage of
slaves imported by the said citizens into the States admitting such
This was the first legislation on the subject of slavery in the new
Congress, and was carried by 29 votes to 25North Carolina, South
Carolina, and Georgia voting unanimously in the negative. All the other
States (except Rhode Island, from which no member was present) voted in
the affirmative or divided. New Hampshire voted 1 yea, 1 nay;
Massachusetts, 6 yeas, 3 nays; Connecticut, 2 yeas, 2 nays; New York, 5
yeas, 2 nays; New Jersey, 3 yeas; Pennsylvania, 5 yeas; Virginia, 5
yeas, 6 nays; Maryland, 1 yea, 4 nays; Delaware, 1 yea.
 At this period, one hundred and fifteen American citizens,
captured by piracy, were held as slaves in Algiers, for whom large
ransoms were demanded by the pirates.
 The convention, after discussing principles, appointed a
committee of detail, consisting of Mr. Rutledge of South Carolina,
Mr. Randolph of Virginia, Mr. Wilson of Pennsylvania, Mr. Ellsworth of
Connecticut, and Mr. Gorham of Massachusetts, to reduce to the form of
a constitution the resolutions agreed upon. This committee without
instructions, or authority from the resolutions adopted, introduced a
clause forever prohibiting the abolition of the African slave-trade.
Mr. Randolph earnestly protested against this clause. He was opposed to
any restriction on the power of Congress to abolish it. He could never
agree to the clause as it stands. He would sooner risk the
Constitution. Madison Papers, p. 1396. Mr. Ellsworth was for leaving
the clause as it now stands. Let every State import what it pleases.
The morality, the wisdom of slavery, are considerations belonging to
the States themselves. What enriches a part, enriches the whole; and
the States are the best judges of their particular interest. Id., p.
1389. It was moved, as a compromise, to guarantee the slave-trade for
twenty years, by postponing the restriction to 1808. This motion was
seconded by Mr. Gorham, of Massachusetts, and it passed. Mr. Madison,
of Virginia, opposed it. Twenty years, he said, will produce all the
mischief that can be apprehended from the liberty to import slaves. So
long a term will be more dishonorable to the American character, than
to say nothing about it in the Constitution. Id., p. 1427. Mr. Mason,
of Virginia, pronounced the traffic as infernal. Id., p. 1390.
 Life of Benjamin Lundy, Phil. 1847, p. 218. The total
membership of the 130 societies was 6625, exclusive of twelve societies
in Illinois from which no returns had been received. These statistics
were gathered by the American Anti-Slavery Convention, which was held
at Philadelphia, in 1827.
Since the preceding pages were in type, I have seen, in the
library of the New York Historical Society, the printed
of the first convention held by the Abolition Societies of the
United States, which met at Philadelphia, January 1, 1794, and
was several days in session, of which mention was made on page
59. These minutes show that my statement of the societies
represented needs correction. The Rhode Island Society appears
have had no delegates present. The Virginia Society appointed
delegates; but, for reasons stated below, they were not
Several societies, however, were represented, of which before
had seen no mention. As the convention met in the depth of
winter, and as traveling was then expensive and difficult, it
evidence of a deep interest in the subject, that so many
The convention met in the City Hall, at Philadelphia, and
organized by choosing Joseph Bloomfield, of New Jersey,
President; John McCrea, Secretary; and Joseph Fry,
The following societies were represented by the delegates
Connecticut SocietyUriah Tracy.
New York SocietyPeter Jay Munroe, Moses Rogers, Thomas
Franklin, Jr., William Dunlap.
New Jersey SocietyJoseph Bloomfield, William Coxe,
Wistar, Robert Pearson, Franklin Davenport.
Pennsylvania SocietyWilliam Rogers, William Rawle,
Powel Griffitts, Robert Patterson, Samuel Coates, Benjamin
Washington (Pa.) SocietyAbsalom Baird.
Delaware SocietyWarren Mifflin, Isaiah Rowland, Joseph
Hodgson, John Pemberton.
Wilmington (Del.) SocietyJoseph Warner, Isaac H.
Maryland SocietySamuel Sterett, James Winchester,
Townsend, Adam Fonerdon, Jesse Hollingsworth.
Chester-town (Md.) SocietyJoseph Wilkinson, James
A letter, directed to the convention, from Robert Pleasants,
chairman of the Committee of Correspondence of the Virginia
Society, was presented and read. By this letter it appeared
Samuel Pleasants and Israel Pleasants, of Philadelphia, were
appointed to represent that society in the convention; and in
case of their declining, or being prevented from acting, the
convention were at liberty to nominate two other persons as
representatives. In the letter was inclosed an authentic
of several vessels lately fitted out in Virginia for the
slave-trade. The convention, after considering the
of the Virginia Society, adopted the following resolution:
Resolved, That as information, and an unreserved
one another's sentiments, relative to the important cause in
which we are severally engaged, are our principal objects; and
the persons appointed by the Virginia Society are not citizens
that State, nor members of that Society, to admit them, or,
according to their proposals for us to elect others as their
representatives, would be highly improper.
The president was directed to acknowledge the receipt of the
letter, to inform the Virginia Society of the above
and to thank them for the important information contained in
Benjamin Rush, William Dunlap, Samuel Sterett, William Rawle,
Warner Mifflin, were appointed a committee to report the
proper for the consideration of the convention, and the best
plan for carrying the same into execution. Under the direction
this committee, memorials were prepared to be sent to the
legislatures of the several States which had not abolished
slavery; a memorial to Congress asking for the enactment of a
making the use of vessels and men in the slave-trade a penal
offense; and an address to the citizens of the United States,
already printed in a note, pp. 60-63. It was also voted to
recommend to the different Abolition societies to appoint
delegates to meet in convention, at Philadelphia, on the first
Wednesday of January, 1795, and on the same day in every year
afterward, until the great objects of their original
I was so fortunate as to find, also, in the New York Historical
Society's library, the minutes of the conventions of 1795 and
1797. The convention of 1795 met in the City Hall, at
Philadelphia, January 7, and continued in session till the
of that month. The societies represented, and delegates, were
Rhode Island SocietyTheodore Foster. The credentials
president of the society stated that George Benson was also
appointed to represent the society; but he did not appear.
Connecticut SocietyJonathan Edwards, Uriah Tracy,
New York SocietyJohn Murray, Jr., William Johnson,
Embree, William Dunlap, William Walton Woolsey.
New Jersey SocietyJames Sloan, Franklin Davenport.
delegates appointed, Joseph Bloomfield, William Coxe, Jr., and
John Wistar, did not appear. It was explained to the
that the absence of Mr. Bloomfield was occasioned by sickness.
Pennsylvania SocietyWilliam Rawle, Robert Patterson,
Rush, Samuel Coates, Caspar Wistar, James Todd, Benjamin Say.
Washington (Pa.) SocietyThomas Scott, Absalom Baird,
Delaware SocietyRichard Bassett, John Ralston, Allen
Wilmington (Del.) SocietyCyrus Newlin, James A.
Joseph Warner, William Poole.
Maryland SocietySamuel Sterett, Adam Fonerdon, Joseph
Townsend, Joseph Thornburgh, George Buchanan, John Bankson,
Chester-town (Md.) SocietyEdward Scott, James Houston.
Dr. Benjamin Rush was elected President; Walter Franklin,
Secretary; and Joseph Fry, Door-keeper.
Jonathan Edwards, William Dunlap, Caspar Wistar, Cyrus Newlin,
Caleb Boyer, Philip Moore, and James Houston were appointed
committee on business. Memorials were prepared, and adopted by
the convention, to be sent to the legislatures of South
and Georgia, as both States still persisted in the importation
slaves. An address to the Abolition Societies of the United
States was also adopted, the spirit of which may be inferred
the following extract:
When we have broken his chains, and restored the African to
enjoyment of his rights, the great work of justice and
benevolence is not accomplished. The new-born citizen must
receive that instruction, and those powerful impressions of
and religious truths, which will render him capable and
of fulfilling the various duties he owes to himself and to his
country. By educating some in the higher branches, and all in
useful parts of learning, and in the precepts of religion and
morality, we shall not only do away the reproach and calumny
unjustly lavished upon us, but confound the enemies of truth,
evincing that the unhappy sons of Africa, in spite of the
degrading influence of slavery, are in nowise inferior to the
more fortunate inhabitants of Europe and America.
The fourth annual convention of the Abolition Societies of the
United States was held in the Senate Chamber, at Philadelphia,
May 3, 1797. The societies represented, and delegates, were as
New York SocietyWillett Seaman, Thomas Eddy, Samuel L.
Mitchell, William Dunlap, Elihu Hubbard Smith.
New Jersey SocietyJoseph Bloomfield, Richard
Joseph Sloan, William Coxe, Jr., William Carpenter.
Pennsylvania SocietyBenjamin Rush, William Rawle,
Griffitts, Casper Wistar, Samuel Coates, Robert Patterson,
Maryland SocietyFrancis Johonnett, Jesse Tyson,
Choptank (Md.) SocietySeth Hill Evitts.
Virginia Society (at Richmond)Joseph Anthony.
Alexandria (Va.) SocietyGeorge Drinker.
Joseph Bloomfield was elected President; Thomas P. Cope,
Secretary; and Jacob Meyer, Door-keeper.
Communications from the New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania,
Maryland, Choptank (Md.), Virginia, and Alexandria (Va.)
Abolition Societies were read. The minutes of the convention
1797 are more elaborately compiled, and contain more
than the previous reports. Among other papers adopted by the
convention, was an Address to the Free Africans. Besides the
seven societies, which sent delegates, the eight societies
following, which sent none, were reported, viz: Rhode Island,
Connecticut, Washington (Pa.), Delaware (at Dover), Wilmington
(Del.), Chester-town (Md.), Winchester (Va.), and Kentucky
Societies. Among the memorials presented to Congress, in 1791,
was one from the Caroline County (Md.) Society. Besides the
Maryland Society, at Baltimore, there appear to have been
local societies on the Eastern Shore of that State.
The several societies reported their membership, in 1797, as
follows: New York Society, two hundred and fifty; New Jersey
Society, compiled partially; Pennsylvania Society, five
and ninety-one; Maryland Society, two hundred and thirty-one;
Choptank (Md.) Society, twenty-five; Wilmington (Del.)
sixty; Virginia Society, one hundred and forty-seven;
(Va.) Society, sixty-two. From the other societies no reports
membership were received. The Choptank (Md.) Society, formed
1790, reported having liberated more than sixty slaves; the
Wilmington (Del.) Society, reported having liberated eighty
1788; and the Alexandria (Va.) Society reported having made
twenty-six complaints under the law against the importation of
slaves. By votes of previous conventions, the Abolition
were required to sustain schools for the education of
The minutes for 1797 contain interesting reports from the
societies of their success in this department of benevolence.
Before the year 1782, it was illegal in Virginia for a master
liberate his slaves without sending them out of the State. The
Assembly of Virginia then passed an act permitting the
manumission of slaves. Judge Tucker of that State, in his
Dissertation on Slavery, estimated that, from 1782 to 1791,
thousand slaves were liberated in Virginia by their masters.
Of the anti-slavery literature of this period, which has not
already been noticed, there is in the New York Historical
Society's library, An Oration spoken before the Connecticut
Society for the Promotion of Freedom, and the Relief of
unlawfully held in Bondage, convened at Hartford the 8th of
1794. By Theodore Dwight. Hartford, 1794. 8vo, 24 pp.
a Discourse delivered April 12, 1797, at the Request of the
York Society for the Promoting the Manumission of Slaves, and
protecting such of them as have been or may be liberated. By
Samuel Miller, A. M. New York, 1787. 8vo, 36 pp.
In the Boston Athenaeum library are the following tracts:
A Dissuasion to Great Britain and the Colonies from the Slave
Trade to Africa. By James Swan. Revised and abridged. Boston,
1773. 8vo, 40 pp. The original edition was printed in 1772.
A Forensic Dispute on the Legality of Enslaving the Africans,
held at a Public Commencement in Cambridge, N. E., July 21,
by the Candidates for the Bachelors' Degrees. Boston, 1773.
A Short Account of that Part of Africa inhabited by the
[By Anthony Benezet.] Philadelphia, 1772. 8vo, 80 pp.
An Address to the British Settlements in America upon
Slaveholding. Second edition. To which are added Observations
a Pamphlet entitled 'Slavery not forbidden by Scripture; or, a
Defence of the West Indian Planters.' By a Pennsylvanian [Dr.
Benjamin Rush]. Philadelphia, 1773. 8vo, pp. 28 + 54. Also,
another edition issued the same year, with the title somewhat
varied; the second part being termed, A Vindication of the
Address to the Inhabitants, etc. The pamphlet entitled
not forbidden by Scripture, etc., was written by R. Nisbet,
is in the Library of Congress.
Memorials presented to the Congress of the United States, by
different Societies instituted for promoting the Abolition of
Slavery, in the States of Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York,
Pennsylvania, Mary, and Virginia. Published by the
Society for promoting the Abolition of Slavery. Philadelphia.
Printed by Francis Bailey, 1792. 8vo, 31 pp.
This tract contains the memorials which were presented to the
House of Representatives, December 8, 1791, and which were
and referred. The Rhode Island memorial is signed by David
Howell, President, and dated December 28, 1790.
Ezra Stiles, President; Simon Baldwin, Secretary; January 7,
1791. New Yorkby Matthew Clarkson, Vice-President; December
1790. Pennsylvaniaby James Pemberton, President; John McCrea
and Joseph P. Norris, Secretaries; October 3, 1791. Washington
(Pa.)by Andrew Swearingen, Vice-President. Maryland, in
BaltimoreSigned by the members generally; but the names of
members are given. Chester-town, Marylandby James M.
President; Daniel McCurtin, Secretary; November 19, 1791.
Caroline County, Marylandby Edward White, Vice-President;
Charles Emery, Secretary; September 6, 1791.
Of the sixteen Abolition Societies existing in the United
during this decade, it appears that six were in States which,
the outbreak of the late rebellion, were non-slaveholding; and
ten were in slaveholding States.
 The Dwight to whom, with others, Bishop Gregoire inscribed
his Literature of Negroes, was probably Theodore Dwight, and not
President Timothy Dwight, as stated on page 31.
DR. GEORGE BUCHANAN'S
ORATION ON SLAVERY,
BALTIMORE, July 4, 1791.
MORAL AND POLITICAL EVIL
DELIVERED AT A PUBLIC MEETING
FOR PROMOTING THE
ABOLITION of SLAVERY,
And the RELIEF of FREE NEGROES, and
others unlawfully held in BONDAGE.
BALTIMORE, July 4th, 1791.
By GEORGE BUCHANAN, M. D.
Member of the American Philosophical Society.
BALTIMORE: Printed by PHILIP EDWARDS.
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At a special meeting of the MARYLAND SOCIETY for promoting
Abolition of Slavery, and the Relief of free Negroes and
unlawfully held in Bondage, held at Baltimore, July
THAT the President present the Thanks of this Society to Dr.
George Buchanan, for the excellent ORATION, by him
this Dayand at the same time request a copy thereof in the
and for the Use of the Society.
Extract from the Minutes.
JOSEPH TOWNSEND, Secretary.
President, SAMUEL STERETT,
Vice President, ALEXr McKIM.
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TO THE HONORABLE
THOMAS JEFFERSON, Esq.
SECRETARY OF STATE,
WHOSE Patriotism, since the American Revolution, has been uniformly
marked, by a sincere, steady and active Attachment to the Interest of
his Country; and whose literary Abilities have distinguished him
amongst the first of Statesmen and Philosophers
Is respectfully inscribed, as an humble Testimony of the highest
Regard and Esteem, by
CITIZENS and FELLOW-MEMBERS,
SUMMONED by your voice, I appear before you with diffidence; the
arduous task you have imposed upon me, would have been better executed
by some one of greater abilities and information, and one more versed
in public speaking.
However, my feeble executions shall not be wanting to promote the
intentions of so laudable an institution; and while I endeavour to
fulfil the purport of this meeting, I shall hope not to fail in proving
Too much cannot be offered against the unnatural custom that
pervades the greatest part of the world, of dragging the human race to
slavery and bondage, nor of exposing the ignominy of such barbarity.
Let an impartial view of man be taken, so far as it respects his
existence, and in the chain of thought, the white, swarthy
and black, will be all linked together, and at once point out
their equality. God hath created mankind after his own image, and
granted to them liberty and independence; and if varieties may be found
in their structure and colour, these are only to be attributed to the
nature of their diet and habits, also of the soil and climate they may
inhabit, and serve as flimsy pretexts for enslaving them.
In the first rudiment of society, when simplicity characterised the
conduct of man, slavery was unknown, every one equally enjoyed that
peace and tranquility at home, to which he was naturally born: But this
equality existed but for a time; as yet no laws, no government was
established check the ambitious, or to curb the crafty; hence reprisals
were made upon the best by the strong and robust, and finally subjected
the weak and indigent to poverty and want.
Here then arose a difference in the circumstances of men, and the
poor and weak were obliged to submit themselves to the control of the
rich and powerful; but although the authority exercised was at first
mild, and ensured to the bondsmen almost the same privileges with their
masters, yet the idea of power soon crept in upon the mind, and at
length lenity was converted into rigidity, and the gall of servitude
became insupportable; the oppressed, soon found that that liberty, which they had just given up, was an inalienable privilege of man, and
sought means to regain it: this was effected,but not until a time
when ignorance began to decline, when improvements were made in the
arts, commerce and governments, and when men could seek protection from
the law, or by industry could ward off the bitterness of poverty, and
ensure to themselves an independence.
Happy circumstance! To feel oneself emancipated from the chains of
slavery, must awaken every delicate sensation of the soul, and
transport the gloomy mind into a region of bliss; for what is life,
without an enjoyment of those privileges which have been given to us by
nature? It is a burden, which if not awed by Divine Providence, would
be speedily cast off, by all who sweat under the yoke of slavish
servitude, and know no alternative but an unceasing submission to the
goads of a brutal master.
Ages have revolved since this happy condition of human affairs; and
although mankind have been gradually verging from a state of simplicity
to a more social refinement, yet the governments of those primitive
times laid open an analogy for licentiousness; and we find, by pursuing
the history of man, that slavery was again introduced, and stained the
annals of all the powers of Europe.
The idea of possessing, as property, was too lucrative to be totally
eradicated; it diffused itself into Egypt and Cyprus, which became the
first and most noted markets for the sale and purchase of slaves, and
soon became the cause of rapine and bloodshed in Greece and Rome: there
it was an established custom to subject to slavery all the captives in
time of war; and not only the Emperors, but the nobility, were in
possession of thousandsto them they served as instruments of
diversion and authority.
To give an idea only of the amphitheatrical entertainments, so
repugnant to humanity, would make the most obdurate heart feel with
keen sensibility. For to hear with patience of voracious animals being
turned loose among human beings, to give sport to the rich and great,
when upon reflection, he may be assured, that the merciless jaw knew no
restraint but precipitately charged upon its prey whom it left, without
remorse, either massacred or maimed.
Such was the practice among the ancients, and to charge the modern
with like enormities, would by many be deemed criminal.
But I fear not to accuse themthe prosecution of the present
barbarous and iniquitous slave trade affords us too many instances of
cruelties exercised against the harmless Africans. A trade, which,
after it was abolished in Europe by the general introduction of
Christianity, was again renewed about the fourteenth century by the
mercenary Portuguese, and now prosecuted by the Spaniards, French and
British, in defiance of every principle of justice, humanity and
Ye moderns, will you not blush at degenerating into ancient
barbarity, and at wearing the garb of Christians, when you pursue the
practices of savages?
Hasten to reform, and put an end to this unnatural and destructive
tradeDo you not know that thousands of your fellow-mortals are
annually entombed by it? and that it proves ruinous to your government?
You go to Africa to purchase slaves for foreign markets, and lose the
advantages of all the proper articles of commerce, which that country
affords. You bury your seamen upon the pestiferous shores; and,
shocking to humanity! make monsters of all you engage in the traffic.
Who are more brutal than the Captains of vessels in the slave trade?
Not even the tawny savage of the American wilds, who thirsts after the
blood of the Christian, and carries off his scalp the trophy of
They even countenance the practice of the ancients, in seeing a
sturdy mastiff tear in pieces some poor wretch of their hateful
cargoes, or in viewing their wreathes and tortures, when smarting under
the lash of a seasoned cat.
It is time to abolish these enormities, and to stay such repeated
insults from being offered to Divine Providence: Some dreadful curse
from heaven may be the effect of them, and the innocent be made to
suffer for the guilty.
What, will you not consider that the Africans are men? that they
have human souls to be saved? that they are born free and independent?
A violation of which prerogatives is an infringement upon the laws of
But, are these the only crimes you are guilty of in pursuing the
trade? Noyou stir up the harmless Africans to war, and stain their
fields with blood: you keep constant hostile ferment in their
territories, in order to procure captives for your uses; some you
purchase with a few trifling articles, and waft to distant shores to be
made the instruments of grandeur, pride and luxury.
You commit also the crime of kidnapping others, whom you forcibly
drag from their beloved country, from the bosoms of their dearest
relatives; so leave a wife without a husband, a sister without a
brother, and a helpless infant to bemoan the loss of its indulgent
Could you but see the agonizing pangs of these distressed mortals,
in the hour of their captivity, when deprived of every thing that is
dear to them, it would make even the heathenish heart to melt with
sorrow; like a noble Senator of old, death is their choice in
preference to lingering out their lives in ignominious slaveryand
often do we see them meet it with a smile.
The horrors of the grave intimidate not even the delicate females;
too many melancholy instances are recorded of their plunging into the
deep, and carrying with them a tender infant at their breast; even in
my own recollection, suicide has been committed in various forms by
these unhappy wretches, under the blind infatuation of revising the
land of their nativity.
Possessed of Christian sentiments, they fail not to exercise them
when an opportunity offers. Things pleasing rejoice them, and
melancholy circumstances pall their appetites for amusements.They
brook no insults, and are equally prone to forgiveness as to
resentment; they have gratitude also, and will even expose their own
lives, to wipe off the obligation of past favours; nor do they want any
of the refinements of taste, so much the boast of those who call
The talent for music, both vocal and instrumental, appears natural
to them: Neither is their genius for literature to be despised; many
instances are recorded of men of eminence amongst them: Witness
Ignatius Sancho, whose letters are admired by all men of tastePhillis
Wheatley, who distinguished herself as a poetessThe physician of New
OrleansThe Virginia calculatorBanneker, the Maryland Astronomer,
and many others whom it would be needless to mention. These are
sufficient to shew, that the Africans, whom you despise, whom you
inhumanly treat as brutes, and whom you unlawfully subject to slavery,
with the tyrannizing hands of Despots, are equally capable of
improvements with yourselves.
This you may think a bold assertion, but it is not made without
reflection, nor independent of the testimony of many, who have taken
pains with their education.
Because you few, in comparison to their number, who make any
exertions of abilities at all, you are ready to enjoy the common
opinion, that they are inferior set of beings, and destined by nature
to the cruelties and hardships you impose upon them.
But be cautious how long you hold such sentiments; the time may
come, when you will be obliged to abandon themconsider the pitiable
situation of these most distressed beings; deprived of their liberty
and reduced to slavery; consider also, that they toil not for
themselves, from the rising of the Sun to its going down, and you will
readily conceive the cause of their inaction.
What time, or what incitement has a slave to become wise? there is
no great art in hilling corn, or in running a furrow; and to do this,
they know they are doomed, whether they seek into the mysteries of
science, or remain ignorant as they are.
To deprive a man of his liberty, has a tendency to rob his soul of
every spring to virtuous actions; and were slaves to become fiends, the
wonder could not be great. Nothing more assimilates a man to a beast,
says the learned Montesque, than being among freemen, himself a slave;
for slavery clogs the mind, perverts the moral faculty, and reduces the
conduct of man to the standard of brutes.
What right then have you to expect greater things from these poor
mortals? You would not blame a brute for committing ravages upon his
prey, nor ought you to censure a slave, for making attempts to regain
his liberty even at the risque of life itself.
Ye mercenary Portuguese, ye ambitious French, and ye deceitful
Britons, I again call upon you to take these things into your
consideration; it is time, a remorse of conscience had seized upon you;
it is time, you were apprised of your danger: Behold the thousands that
are annually lost to your governments, in the prosecution of an
unlawful and iniquitous trade.
View the depredations that you commit upon a nation, born equally
free with yourselves; consider the abyss of misery into which you
plunge your fellow-mortals, and reflect upon the horrid crimes you are
hourly committing under the bright sunshine of revealed religion.Will
you not then find yourselves upon a precipice, and protected from ruin,
only because you are too wicked to be lost?
What Empire, or what State can have the hope of existing, which
prosecutes a trade, that proves a sinking fund to her coffers, and to
her subjects, tramples the human species under foot, with as much
indifference as the dirt, and fills the world with misery and woe?
Let not a blind hardness of opinion any longer bias your judgments,
and prevent you from acting like Christians.
View the Empires amongst the ancients; behold Egypt in the time of
Secostris, Greece in the time of Cyrus, and Rome in the reign of
Augustus; view them all, powerful as enemies, patterns of virtue and
science, bold and intrepid in war, free and independent; and now see
them sacrificed at the shrine of luxury, and dwindled into
insignificance. When in power, they usurped the authority of God, they
stretched out their arms to encompass their enemies, and bound their
captives in iron chains of slavery.
Vengeance was then inflicted, their spoils became the instruments of
pride, luxury and dissipation, and finally proved the cause of their
Then look back at home; view your degeneracy from the times of Louis
the 14th and Charles the 2d, and if a universal blush don't prevail, it
will argue a hardness of heart, tempered by a constant action of
wickedness upon the smooth anvil of religion.
For such are the effects of subjecting man to slavery, that it
destroys every human principle, vitiates the mind, instills ideas of
unlawful cruelties, and eventually subverts the springs of government.
What a distressing scene is here before us. America, I start at your
situation! The idea of these direful effect of slavery demand your most
serious attention.What! shall a people, who flew to arms with the
valour of Roman Citizens, when encroachments were made upon their
liberties, by the invasion of foreign powers, now basely descend to
cherish the seed and propagate the growth of the evil, which they
boldly sought to eradicate. To the eternal infamy of our country, this
will be handed down to posterity, written in the blood of African
If your forefathers have been degenerate enough to introduce slavery
into your country, to contaminate the minds of her citizens, you ought
to have the virtue of extirpating it.
Emancipated from the shackles of despotism, you know no superior;
free and independent, you stand equally respected among your foes, and
your allies.Renowned in history, for your valour, and for your
wisdom, your way is left open to the highest eminence of human
But while with pleasing hopes you may anticipate such an event, the
echo of expiring freedom cannot fail to assail the ears, and pierce the
heart with keen reproach.
In the first struggles for American freedom, in the enthusiastic
ardour for attaining liberty and independence, one of the most noble
sentiments that ever adorned the human breast, was loudly proclaimed in
all her councils
Deeply penetrated with a sense of Equality, they held it as a
fixed principle, that all men are by nature and of right ought to
be free, that they are created equal and endowed by their Creator with
certain inalienable rights, amongst which are life, liberty and the
pursuit of happiness.
Nevertheless, when the blessings of peace were showered upon
them, when they had obtained these rights which they had so boldly
contended for, then they became apostates to their principles,
and rivetted the fetters of slavery upon the unfortunate Africans.
Deceitful men! who could have suggested, that American patriotism
would at this day countenance a conduct so inconsistent; that while
America boasts of being a land of freedom, and an asylum for the
oppressed of Europe, she should at the same time foster an abominable
nursery for slaves, to check the shoots of her growing liberty?
Deaf to the clamours of criticism, she feels no remorse, and blindly
pursues the object of her destruction; she encourages the propagation
of vice, and suffers her youth to be reared in the habits of cruelty.
Not even the sobs and groans of injured innocence, which reek
from every State, can excite her pity, nor human misery bend her heart
Cruel and oppressive she wantonly abuses the Rights of Man,
and willingly sacrifices her liberty at the altar of slavery: What an
opportunity is here given for triumph among her enemies? Will they not
exclaim, that upon this very day, while the Americans the anniversary
of Freedom and Independence, abject slavery exists tn all her States
How degenerately base to merit the rebuke. Fellow-countrymen, let
the heart of humanity awake and direct your counsels; reflect that
slavery gains root among you; look back upon the curses which it has
heaped upon your ancestors, and unanimously combine to drive the
fiend Monster from your territories; it is inconsistent with the
principles of your government, with the education of your youth, and
highly derogatory to the true spirit of Christianity.
In despotic governments, says Montesque, where they are already in a
state of political slavery, civil slavery is more tolerable than in
other governments; for there the minds of masters and servants are
equally degenerate and act in unison.But in America, this cannot be
the case; here the pure forms of Republicanism are established, and
hold forth to the world the enjoyment of Freedom and Independence.
Her citizens have thrown off the load of oppression, under which
they formerly laboured; and elated with their signal victories, have
become oppressors in their turn.
They have slaves, over whom they carry the iron rod of subjection,
and fail not to exercise it with cruelty, hence their situations become
insupportable, misery inhabits their cabins, and persecution pursues
them in the field.
I would wish to be partial to my country, and carry a hand of
lenity; it is more pleasing to celebrate than to detract, but whoever
takes a view of the situation of its slaves, will find it even worse
than this description.
Naked and starved, they often fall victims to the inclemencies of
the weather, and inhumanly beaten; sacrifices to the turbulent tempers
of their cruel masters.
Unfortunate Africans! born in freedom and subjected to slavery! How
long will you remain the spoils of despotism, and the harbinger of
human calamities? Cannot your distresses awaken the heart of
sensibility, and excite her pity? Cannot your unlawful treatment call
forth the voice of humanity to plead your cause?
Americans! step forward; you have already diffused a spirit of
Liberty throughout the world; you have set examples of heroism; and now
let me intreat you to pave the way to the exercise of humanity: an
opportunity is offered to raise yourselves to the first eminence among
Rouse then from your lethargy, and let not such torpid indifference
prevail in your councils.Slavery, the most implacable enemy to your
country, is harboured amongst you; it makes a rapid progress, and
threatens you with destruction.
Already has it disturbed the limpid streams of liberty, it has
polluted the minds of your youth, sown the seeds of despotism, and
without a speedy check to her ravages, will sink you into a pit of
infamy, where you shall be robbed of all the honours you have before
Let it viewed either morally or politically, and no one argument can
be adduced in its favour.
The savage mind may perhaps be reconciled to it, but the heart of
the Christian must recoil at the idea.He sees it forbidden in Holy
Writ, and his conscience dictates to him, that it is wrong.
He that stealeth a man, says Exodus, and selleth him,
of if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.
Oh my countrymen! are there any of you who can con over this elegant
passage of Scripture, without trembling; or can you stand before the
great Author of your existence, with an arm uplifted to subject his
creatures to slavery, without dreading an execution of this divine
The nation, to whom they shall be in bondage, will I judge, said
Godand what that judgment may be, is beyond the suggestion of
mortals. We may be hurled amidst the elements of woe to expiate the
guilt, for he who holdeth men in slavery liveth in sin.
In a civilized country, where religion is tolerated in all its
purity, it must be the fault of ignorance, stubborn indifference to
Christianity, to rebel against divine sentiments; and considering
slavery in a political view, it must appear equally as destructive to
our terrestrial happiness, as it endangers our enjoyment of heavenly
For who is there, unless innured to savage cruelties, that hear of
the inhuman punishments daily afflicted upon the unfortunate Blacks,
without feeling for their situations?
Can a man who calls himself a Christian, coolly and deliberately tie
up, thumb screw, torture with pincers, and beat unmercifully a poor
slave, for perhaps a trifling neglect of duty? Or can any one be an eye
witness to such enormities, without at the same time being deeply
persuaded of its guilt?
I fear these questions may be answered in the affirmative, but I
hope by none of this respectable audience; for such men must be
monsters, not of the regular order of nature, and equally prone to
murder, or to less cruelties.
But independent of these effects, which the existence of slavery in
any country has over the moral faculty of man, it is highly injurious
to its natural oeconomy; it debars the progress of agriculture, and
gives origin to sloth and luxury.
View the fertile fields of Great Britain, where the hand of freedom
conducts the plowshare, then look back upon your own, and see how mean
will be the comparison.
Your labourers are slaves, and they have no inducement, no incentive
to be industrious; they are cloathed and victualled, whether lazy or
hard-working; and from the calculations that have been made, one
freeman is worth almost two slaves in the field, which makes it in many
instances cheaper to have hirelings; for they are incited to industry
by the hopes of reputation and future employment, and are careful of
their apparel and their instruments of husbandry, where they must
provide them for themselves, whereas, the others have little or no
temptation to attend to any of these circumstances.
But this, the prejudiced mind is scarce able to scan, the pride of
holding men as property is too flattering to yield to the dictates of
reason, and blindly pushes on man to his destruction.
What a pity is it, that darkness should so obscure us, that America
with all her transcending glory, should be stigmatized with the
infamous reproach of oppression, and her citizens be called Tyrants.
Fellow-countrymen, let the hand of persecution be no longer raised
against you.Act virtuously; do unto all men as you would they should
do unto you, and exterminate the pest of slavery from your land.
Then will the tongues of slander be silenced, the shafts of
criticism blunted, and America enter upon a new theatre of glory.
But unless these things shall be done, unless the calamitous
situation of the slaves shall at least be alleviated, what is America
to expect? Can she think that the repeated insults to Divine Authority
will pass off with impunity? Or can she suppose, that men, who are
naturally born free, shall forever sweat under the yoke of ignominious
slavery, without making one effort to regain their liberty?
No, my countrymen, these things are not to be expected.Heaven will
not overlook such enormities! She is bound to punish impenitent
sinners, and her wrath is to be dreaded by all! Moreover, the number of
slaves, that are harboured amongst you holds forth an alarm; in many
parts of the continent they exceed the whites, and are capable of
ransacking the country.
What then, if the fire of Liberty shall be kindled amongst them?
What, if some enthusiast in their cause shall beat to arms, and call
them to the standard of freedom? Would they fly in clouds, until their
numbers became tremendous, and threaten the country with devastation
and ruin?It would not be the feeble efforts of an undisciplined
people, that could quell their fury.
Led on by the hopes of freedom, and animated by the aspiring voice
of their leader, they would soon find, that a day, an hour of virtuous
liberty, worth a whole eternity of bondage.
Hark! Methinks I hear the work begun, the Blacks have sought for
Allies, and found them in the wilderness; they have called the rusty
savages to their assistance, and are preparing to take revenge of their
A revenge, which they consider as justly merited; for being no
longer able to endure their unnatural and unlawful bondage, they are
determined to seek Liberty or Death.
Why then is there not some step to be taken to ward off the dreadful
Fellow countrymen, will you stand and see your aged parents, your
loving wives, your dutiful children butchered by the merciless hand of
the enthusiast, when you have it in your power to prevent it?
In this enlightened period, when the Rights of Man is the topick of
political controversy, and slavery is considered not only unnatural but
unlawful, why do you not step forward and compleat the glorious work
you have begun, and extend the merciful hand to the unfortunate Blacks?
Why do you not form some wise plan to liberate them, and abolish
slavery in your country?
If it should be deemed injudicious or impolitic to effect it at
once, let it be done gradually; let the children for one or two
generations be liberated at a certain age, and less than half a century
will the plague be totally rooted out from amongst youthen will you
begin to see your consequencethousands of good citizens will be added
to your number, and your arms will become invincible: Gratitude will
induce them to become your friends; for the PROMISE alone of
freedom to a slave ensures his loyalty; witness their conduct in the
second Punic war which the Senate of Rome carried on against Hannibal;
not a man disgraced himself, but all with an intrepidity peculiar to
veterans met their foes, fought and conquered.
Witness also the valour of a few Blacks in South-Carolina, who under
the promise of freedom, joined the great and good Colonel JOHN LAURENS;
and in a sudden surprised the British, and distinguished themselves as
I remember it was said, they were foremost in the ranks, and nobly
contended for their promised reward.
At this critical juncture, when savage cruelties threatened to
invade your peaceful territories, and murder your citizens, what great
advantage might be derived from giving freedom to the Africans at once.
Would they not all became your Allies; would they not turn out hardy
for the wilderness, to drive the blood-thirsty savage to his den, and
teach him it were better to live peaceably at home, than to come under
the scourge of such newly liberated levies.
Americans arouseIt is time to hear the cause of the wretched sons
of Africa, enslaved in your country; they plead not guilty to every
charge of crime, and unmeritedly endure the sufferings you impose upon
Yet, like haughty Despots, or corrupt judges, you forbid a trial.
Justice however to yourselves and humanity toward your fellow mortals,
loudly demand it of you, and you ought not to hesitate in obeying their
A few years may be sufficient to make you repent of your unrelenting
indifference, and give a stab to all your boasted honors; then may you,
pitiable citizens, be taught wisdom, when it will be too late; then may
you cry out, Abba Father, but mercy will not be found, where mercy was
Let all the social feelings of the soul, let honour, philanthropy,
pity, humanity, and justice, unite to effect their emancipation.
For eternal will be the disgrace of keeping them much longer in the
iron fetters of slavery, but immortal the honour of accomplishing their
* * * * *
To the SOCIETY.
Such were the sentiments, my friends, that first induced you to form
yourselves into this Society.
For seeing human nature debased in the most vile manner, and seeing
also that your country deeply suffered from the iniquitous custom of
holding man in slavery, you have justly concluded that at this
particular crisis, when Europe and America appear to pay some attention
to this evil, the united endeavours of a few, might greatly influence
the public opinion, and produce from the transient sentiment of the
times, effects, extensive, lasting and useful.But however great have
been your exertions; however much they have been guided by the precepts
of humanity and religion, your public reward has been censure and
criticism; but let not such airy weapons damp your ardour for doing
good; your just reward is in Heaven, not on earth.
Yours is the business of mercy and compassion, not of oppression.
You forcibly rescue from the hands of no man his property, but by your
examples and precepts you promote the Abolition of Slavery, and give
relief to free Negroes, and others unlawfully held in bondage.
You have shown an anxiety to extend a portion of that freedom to
others, which GOD in his Providence hath extended unto you, and a
release from that thraldom to which yourselves and your country were so
lately tyrannically doomed, and from which you have been but recently
delivered. You have evinced to the world your inclination to remove as
much as possible the sorrows of those who have lived in undeserved
bondage, and that your hearts are expanded with kindness toward men of
all colours, conditions and nations; and if you did not interest
yourselves in their behalf, how long might their situations remain hard
Numbers might passively remain for life in abject slavery from an
ignorance of the mode of acquiring their emancipation, notwithstanding
they may be justly entitled to their freedom by birth and by the law.
If the hand of prosecution is now raised against you, for relieving
your fellow mortals from the distresses of unlawful slavery, and
restoring them to liberty, it is to be hoped it will not be of long
duration; the principles of your institutions will be daily made more
known, and others will begin to think as you do; they will find upon
reflection, that they have no just power or authority to hold men in
slavery, and seeing that your actions are charitable and disinterested,
will cordially inlist under your banners, and aid your benevolent
Already have you reason to suppose, that your good examples have
been influential; you humbly began with a few, and you now see your
numbers hourly encreasing.
It may be the effusions of a youthful fancy, solicitous of
aggrandizing your merit, but I fear not to say, that the operations of
similar institutions will date one of the most splendid aeras of
Go on then, my friends, pursue the dictates of an unsullied
conscience, and cease not until you have finished your workbut let
prudence guide you in all your undertakings, and let not an
enthusiastic heat predominate over reason. Your cause is a just one,
consistent with law and equity, and must finally be advocated by all
men of Humanity and Religion.
* * * * *
For, 'tis Liberty alone which gives the flower
of fleeting life its lustre and perfume,
And we are weeds without it.
 A whip with nine tails.
 This was thrown out as a conjecture of what possibly might
happen, and the insurrections in St. Domingo tend to prove the danger,
to be more considerable than has generally been supposed, and
sufficient to alarm the inhabitants of these States.